Los Angeles Partition Lawyers

The city of Los Angeles was founded on September 4, 1781, under Felipe de Neve, the Governor of Spanish California. As the second largest city in the United States, residents of Los Angeles who own property may face disputes with co-owners. Generally, the best Los Angeles Partition Attorneys usually find partition action to be the best remedy for disputing co-owners in four broad categories:

  • Split real estate dispute;
  • Brother-Sister real estate dispute;
  • Investor-Investor real estate dispute; and
  • Significant other real estate dispute
What Is a Partition Action in California?

A partition lawsuit requires real estate to be sold regardless of the requests of the other title owners. The purpose of a partition action is to permanently end all disputes and remove all obstacles to the free enjoyment of land by one person. (McGillivray v. Evans (1864) 27 Cal.92.) These types of actions can be brought for all types of real estate from houses to farms to office buildings to apartment buildings. Similarly, partition actions are available all types of ownership situations from joint tenants to tenants-in-common to partnership property to property jointly owned by former spouses.

Historically, the term "partition" comes from the basic word to break into "parts" as in physically dividing real estate in half. For example, if two siblings inherited ten acres of farmland, the property could historically be divided into five acres a piece for each of them. As most people now live in single-family homes, which cannot simply be "split in half," courts will instead order that the property be sold and the proceeds, or equity, be "split in half."

What Are the Steps in a Partition Action?

Under the Partition of Real Property Act, the court instead appoints an appraiser to do the heavy lifting. The new statute states that the court “shall determine the fair market value of the property by ordering an appraisal.” (CCP § 874.316.) The court doesn’t have to be the one to order the appraisal, but this is only if all the co-owners agree to a different method of valuation. 

If, however, an appraisal occurs, it shall be conducted by a disinterested third-party real estate appraiser licensed to determine the fair market value of properties. After the appraisal is conducted, parties may file objections to the value and can even offer additional evidence of value to the court. 

After the valuation is complete, parties will be introduced to the key feature of the new statute: the buy-out option. If a co-owner requests a partition by sale, then the court will notify the other co-owners that they may buy all the interests of the cotenant that requested the partition. (CCP § 874.317.) 

This is, essentially, a right of first refusal. The co-owners who don’t want the property sold now have the option to simply buy out the requesting party. Additionally, the buy-out price will be based on the property’s valuation, determined earlier in the litigation. And if one or more parties exercise the buy-out, then the court will reapportion ownership percentages based on the price paid.

What Are Claims for “Contribution”?

Code of Civil Procedure section 874.140 states that the “court may, in all cases, order allowance, accounting, contribution, or other compensatory adjustments among the parties according to the principles of equity.” 

The court in Hunter v. Schultz (1966) 240 Cal.App.2d 24 stated that the payments for interest, taxes, and insurance made by any co-tenant could be subject to reimbursement. These claims for reimbursement are commonly known as “offsets” in a partition action. 

Further, the court under Milian v. De Leon (1986) 181 Cal.App.3d 1185, announced that a co-tenant who expends money for the preservation of the property, or with the [acceptance] of their co-tenant(s), is entitled to reimbursement for those expenditures before the division of the proceeds among the property owners. 

That is, the general rule is that compensatory adjustments are appropriate for improvements that enhance the value of the property for all owners’ benefit. (see Wallace v. Daley (1990) 220 Cal.App.3d 1028, 1035-1036.) A knowledgeable Los Angeles Partition Lawyer will be familiar with this process.

Can a Partition Action be Settled Through Mediation or Negotiation?

A partition action can always be resolved informally at any time prior to the first day of trial. In fact, in numerous instances, just filing the partition itself leads the other party to seek a resolution between them. We always encourage the parties to talk throughout every phase of the process, as that can lead to the best outcomes for everyone.

From our perspective, every piece of litigation is just part of a larger “negotiation.” In any negotiation, the party who has the best leverage is usually able to achieve a more favorable outcome. The lawsuit provides the client with more leverage because they have more options available to them than without the prospect of a resolution from a judge. As such, all that a lawsuit does is provide one party with more leverage in the negotiation about how to resolve the dispute. For this reason, the best way to informally resolve a dispute is to combine discussions with active litigation, so that the matter can be quickly resolved without unnecessary expense. Throughout the process, our attorneys are in touch with our clients about their options and the prospects for informal resolution through mediation or negotiation. An experienced Los Angeles Partition Lawyer will be familiar with this process.

A Partition Case Study: Estate of Sanchez

Interpreting a decedent’s will can be tricky business. Oftentimes, there are familial conflicts that can cause bias in one’s interpretation of the will. People may also argue for an interpretation that advances their own self-interests. Sometimes, personal feelings can get in the way of logical thinking.

Familial squabbling over property left by wills can get ugly and can often cause people to make arguments with little regard towards evidence. Emotional ties to property can also cause parties to question the estate when property is being distributed. There are many complex relationships to deal with in probate cases, and courts generally will not be amenable to arguments based more on emotion than legal standing.

Estate of Sanchez, Cal.App.Unpub WL 16548875 (2022), is an example of a party making arguments due to personal feelings and not based on proper legal authority or other evidence. Estate of Sanchez is an important reminder that though lawsuits involving family members can become contentious, ultimately a court is only concerned with logical arguments that have at least some legal backing.

Decedent Frank Sanchez passed away in April 2016. (Id., at 1.) Frank's daughter, Leslie, became the executor and personal representative of his estate. (Id.) Frank’s surviving wife, Caroline, had an interest in their community and quasi-community property, which was confirmed in Frank’s will. (Id.) However, Frank also gave his own one-half interest in the community and quasi-community property, as well as all of his separate property, to his children, including Leslie. (Id.) Caroline was explicitly disinherited. (Id.)

In January 2017, Leslie sued Caroline and other defendants for partition by sale of a property in San Jose that was owned partly by Frank’s estate. (Id.) Leslie alleged that Caroline, who also owned an interest in the property, owed money to Frank’s estate, and the sale proceeds would help satisfy that debt. (Id.)

Later, Caroline petitioned for a probate homestead. (Id., at 2.) Leslie opposed this petition, alleging that Caroline committed theft and fraud against Frank and that Caroline had no equity in the property she wanted as a homestead, allegations Leslie claimed that she could prove. (Id.) Caroline then amended her petition and asked to be given Frank’s one-half interest in the community property as a probate homestead for the rest of her life. (Id.)

Caroline was retired and would not be able to afford a replacement home. (Id.) She was also 87 years old and in poor health. (Id.) That is why Caroline asked the court for the probate homestead, and the probate court had previously confirmed Caroline’s community interest in the residence. (Id.)

Leslie opposed Caroline’s amended petition, arguing that if the residence stayed with Caroline, then it would violate the children’s constitutional rights since Frank disinherited Caroline, so the property should be passed to Frank’s children. (Id.) The trial court granted Caroline’s lifetime probate homestead. (Id.) Leslie appealed, and the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment. (Id.)

The main point of contention in Estate of Sanchez was Caroline’s lifetime probate homestead. Leslie and Caroline did not seem to have the best relationship, as Leslie made several accusations against Caroline and opposed Caroline’s requested probate homestead. Unfortunately, it seems that Leslie’s personal feelings got in the way of her legal arguments since Leslie often failed to cite to the record for evidence or cite proper legal precedents that would support her claims.

Leslie first argued that the trial court violated statute by giving Caroline the probate homestead without considering her and her siblings’ interests. (Id., at 6.) In Section 6523 of the Probate Code, the probate court is required to consider not just the needs of the surviving spouse, but also the needs of the heirs of the decedent when selecting a probate homestead. (Id.)

Even though Leslie argued that the trial court violated Section 6523 by not considering her and her siblings’ interests, she provided no evidence to support her claim. (Id., at 7.) Leslie did not cite any records of what happened at the trial court, so the Court of Appeal had no way of knowing what the trial court considered at the hearing. (Id.) Leslie also did not cite any evidence that either she or her siblings had other needs that the trial court did not consider. (Id.) Since the burden was on Leslie to prove that the trial court erred, a burden that she failed, the Court of Appeal presumed the trial court’s order did not violate Section 6523. (Id.)

Leslie also argued that, according to Section 21611 of the Probate Code, the probate homestead should not go to Caroline since it goes against the decedent’s expressed intent of disinheriting Caroline. (Id.) Frank had disinherited Caroline by giving his half of the community property to his children, leaving Caroline only with her half. (Id., at 1.)

However, Leslie’s argument once again lacked a legal backbone. (Id., at 7.) The trial court granted a probate homestead for Caroline, it did not give Caroline an ownership interest in Frank’s half of the community property. (Id.) Section 21611 only affects spouses that receive a share of the decedent’s estate, which is not what Caroline was receiving. (Id.) The Court of Appeal held that the probate homestead did not go against the decedent’s intent or violate section 21611, writing:

The probate homestead does not conflict with the provisions of the Probate Code Leslie relies on, nor does it undermine Frank's expressed testamentary intent. Caroline is not receiving a share of Frank's estate in violation of section 21611, which precludes a spouse from receiving a share of the estate when the decedent intentionally failed to provide for the spouse. (§ 21611, subd. (a).) Leslie does not cite any legal authority indicating that a property can be set aside as a probate homestead for a spouse only if the decedent did not intentionally disinherit that spouse. (Id.)

Additionally, Leslie argued that the trial court violated several other provisions of the Probate Code and Civil Code when it ordered the probate homestead. (Id.) Leslie’s arguments were again not supported by any legal authorities or citations to the record. (Id.)

Leslie also argued that the probate homestead order cannot bar co-owners from a partition action. (Id., at 8.) In a rare instance, Leslie used a case called Squibb v. Squibb to support her argument. (Id.) Unfortunately for Leslie, Squibb was not analogous to her case at all. (Id.)

In Squibb, a wife declared a homestead on a property where she was a co-tenant with her husband, but the husband sued for partition by sale. (Id.) The court in Squibb affirmed the partition by sale order, holding that the wife’s homestead interest does not prevent a partition by sale. (Id.)

However, the homestead in Squibb was a declared homestead under the Code of Civil Procedure. (Id.) Those statutes were designed to prevent forced property sales by a party seeking money judgment. (Id.) Caroline’s homestead was a probate homestead under the Probate Code. (Id.) Leslie did not provide any legal authorities that Squibb applied also to probate homesteads. (Id.) The Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s probate homestead order. (Id.)

Estate of Sanchez teaches that a party needs legal authority and sufficient evidence for their arguments in court. Though such proceedings can get emotional, one must always remember that courts need to see arguments backed by properly chosen legal authorities and evidence from the record, which provides a foundation for parties to build their arguments.

It can be difficult to present arguments in court, and Estate of Sanchez illustrates what insufficient legal arguments look like. Leslie may have stood a chance at the appellate court if she had picked better case law or provided any evidence to support her claims. Unfortunately for Leslie, none of her claims had any substance because she failed to provide a proper foundation for her arguments.

How Underwood Law Firm Can Help

As seen in Estate of Sanchez, real estate law is full of statutes and legal authorities that may be confusing for parties to choose the right one. What’s important is organizing one’s arguments and ensuring that each argument has the proper legal backing, whether that is a statute or case law.

Here at Underwood Law, our knowledgeable attorneys are here to help navigate the complex web of case law and statutes surrounding real estate. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to our office.

Learn more here.

Client Reviews
“We were in need of a real estate attorney. Eli Underwood provided excellent legal advice and services. He explained everything well and followed through with all important issues that needed attention. We found him to be reliable, courteous, patient and extremely professional. We highly recommend Mr. Underwood without any reservations.” I.S.
"I own a real estate investment company that operates across multiple states (California, Washington, Oregon, Montana, and more), whenever I run into an issue that needs legal attention, Eli is my first call. I've been working with him for years. He is an amazing attorney and I highly recommend him." Thank you for your help Sir!" T.W.
"Mr. Underwood is a fantastic Lawyer with extraordinary ethics. He responds quickly, which is rare these days, and he is very knowledgeable in his craft. It was a pleasure working with him and we will definitely use his services in the future if needed. Thank you for your help Sir!" M.O.
"Eli took our case and controlled every hurdle put before us. I one time commented to him that he must love his job because it seemed that he was always available. When talking about my case to anyone I always bring up where, I believe, the other parties Lawyer tried to take advantage of my wife and me. Eli stopped him in his tracks. On top of it being easy to work with Eli, it was a pleasure to have had him represent us. We were in good hands." E.T
"We were in need of an attorney with considerable knowledge of real estate law and the legal issues related to property ownership. Eli Underwood went above and beyond our expectations. In keeping us abreast of our suit, his communication skills were outstanding. This talent was especially demonstrated when dealing with the apposing counsel. We feel this gave us a tremendous advantage over the opposing party that resulted in us reaching a successful outcome. I would highly recommend Eli Underwood as we found him to be an exceptional attorney." P.B.
"In our need for legal services we found Eli to be well informed and on top of our case and our needs. Our's was not an ordinary case as it was a case with many facets. It was a very convoluted case. There were multiple owners involved in a property dispute where one of the owners sued the rest of the owners with a Partition Suit. Needless to say Eli was instrumental in helping us resolve our differences and gained us a profitable sale all with good end results for all. If you hire Eli Underwood you will not be disappointed!" M.A.