Levin v. Winston-LevinAnnotate this Case
In 1986, Robert Levin established a revocable trust, and was thereafter amended several times: in 1993, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2011 and 2012. After Robert passed away in 2015, litigation erupted, principally over the 2008 and 2012 amendments. Elizabeth Levin, Robert’s daughter from a prior marriage, sued Robert’s widow, Debra Winston-Levin, on multiple grounds which, by the time the matter went to trial, had devolved into causes of action for an order compelling the return of certain Levin Trust property pursuant to Probate Code section 850, and for double damages pursuant to Probate Code section 859. With regard to the 2012 amendment, the trial court found a presumption of undue influence went unrebutted by Debra. As a result, the court voided the entire 2012 amendment and ordered Debra to return property she had obtained pursuant to the 2012 amendment and a related deed. Elizabeth appealed, contending the court erred in three ways: (1) the court’s finding of undue influence compelled a finding that Debra was liable for financial abuse of an elder, which, in turn, compelled an award of double damages under Probate Code section 859; (2) the evidence compelled a finding that undue influence tainted the 2008 amendment; and (3) the court erred in voiding the entire 2012 amendment rather than carving out only those portions that benefited Debra. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court correctly interpreted section 859; the court’s ruling was supported by substantial evidence; and a reasonable inference from the cumulative changes in the amendment were that they were intended to be intertwined, such that voiding only those portions benefiting Debra would not effectuate Robert’s intent. Accordingly, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment.