The Tale of Choupette the Cat and Other Common Issues in Trust and Estate Litigation

by Danielle F. Diebert
The Trusts & Estates Law Blog

When Karl Lagerfeld passed away in February of 2019 in France, many speculated that his cat, Choupette, was well provided for as part of his estimated $150 million estate. This pampered feline was much loved by Mr. Lagerfeld during his life, and appeared in photoshoots and featured in many high-end fashion magazines. However, over a year after Mr. Lagerfeld’s death, certain media outlets have reported that the administrator of Mr. Lagerfeld’s estate has “disappeared.” Based on these reports, many question whether Choupette will ever be able to dig her claws into her alleged inheritance.

In fact, the failure of a fiduciary to expediently administer an estate and to provide information to beneficiaries is a frequent source of trust and estate litigation. While in California the laws relating to inheritance are different than in France, it is common for beneficiaries to question the actions of a fiduciary managing the estate, particularly when a substantial period of time has elapsed, no information has been provided, and no distributions have been made.

If Mr. Lagerfeld’s estate was being administered under California law, several steps should have already been taken in the administration of the estate. If Mr. Lagerfeld left a will, the custodian of the will would have been required to submit the original will to the superior court of the county in which the estate of Mr. Lagerfeld may be administered. A petition for probate would have been filed to admit the will for probate and also to appoint a personal representative to administer Mr. Lagerfeld’s estate. A noticed hearing would have been held to admit the will and appoint a personal representative.

After the appointment of a personal representative, an inventory and appraisal is required to be filed. If the estate is not in a condition to be distributed after one year in an estate for which a federal estate tax return is not required, or after eighteen months in an estate for which a federal estate tax return is required, a status report is required to be filed. A petition for final distribution would ultimately be filed which typically includes a full accounting of the personal representative’s actions.

Depending on the nature of the estate, the personal representative may have to sell real property, address complex tax issues, engage in litigation, manage business interests, and/or deal with substantial creditor claims. In the event that the fiduciary has violated fiduciary obligations in failing to provide information or otherwise, legal action can be taken to compel information and to redress breaches of fiduciary obligations. However, it may simply be that the size and complexity of the administration requires additional time to complete. In either scenario, it is important for beneficiaries to remain reasonably informed regarding the estate administration in order to adequately protect their rights.