SCOCA has ruled that a creditor/predator can reach up to the entire amount of trust sums due and payable to a beneficiary, plus up to 25% of specified future payments, underscoring the crucial value of having trustees with full discretion over distributions.
Under the terms of a spendthrift trust established by his parents, Defendant was entitled to receive over one million dollars, all to be paid out of trust principal. Before the trust’s first payment, Defendant filed for bankruptcy. The bankruptcy trustee sought a declaratory judgment on the extent of the bankruptcy trustee’s interest in the trust. The bankruptcy court concluded that the bankruptcy trustee, standing as a hypothetical lien creditor, could reach twenty-five percent of Defendant’s interest in the trust. The bankruptcy appellate panel affirmed. On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit asked the Supreme Court to clarify the relevant provisions of the California Probate Code. The Supreme Court held (1) where a spendthrift trust pays the beneficiary entirely out of principal, the California Probate Code does not limit a bankruptcy estate’s access to the trust to twenty-five percent of the beneficiary’s interest; and (2) with limited exceptions, a general creditor may reach a sum up to the full amount of any distributions that are currently due and payable to the beneficiary even though they are still in the trustee’s hands and separately may reach a sum up to twenty-five percent of any payments that are anticipated to be made to the beneficiary.