Placer County Partition Lawyers

Placer County is included in the Greater Sacramento metropolitan area. It is in both the Sacramento Valley and Sierra Nevada regions, in what is known as the Gold Country. The discovery of gold in 1848 brought tens of thousands of miners from around the world during the California Gold Rush. In addition, many more thousands came to provide goods and services to the miners. On April 25, 1851, the fast-growing county was formed from parts of Sutter and Yuba Counties. Placer County took its name from the Spanish word for sand or gravel deposits containing gold. Today, Placer County is home to over 404,000 residents. According to Redfin, the median sale price of a home in Placer County was $682K in June, 2023, down 5.0% since last year. The median sale price per square foot in Placer County is $343, down 3.7% since last year. Roughly 60% of the housing units in Placer County are owner-occupied which suggests that many of the homes are jointly owned. As such, residents of Placer County who own property may face disputes with co-owners. Often, Placer County Partition Lawyers find that joint ownership problems fall into four broad categories:

  • Father/Mother-Son/Daughter tenants in common in real estate;
  • Brother-Sister shared tenants in common in real estate;
  • Investor-Investor shared tenants in common in real estate; and
  • Non-Married Partners shared tenants in common in real estate;
What is a Partition Action in California?

Partition is a court-ordered process where a property owner forces a sale of jointly owned real estate. Essentially, a partition action exists to allows people who own real estate together to take their share of the equity and go their separate ways. But, as simple as this seems, partition actions can often become complex lawsuits. Disputes commonly arise as to what type of partition may be sought and the process for determining ownership interests.

For example, “Julie” bought a house with her boyfriend, “Shawn,” thinking that they would get married one day. Later, after they had bought the house, Julie realized that her boyfriend was not the right person for her. Because Julie wanted to move on in her life, she also wanted to sell the house she bought with her boyfriend. Her boyfriend, however, was mad at Julie for breaking up with him, and so refused to agree to sell the house. Because they were not married, Julie could not go to a divorce lawyer, and because they both did not agree to sell, a realtor could not help Julie. Julie felt trapped. Julie then, however, found a partition lawyer and was able to get the house sold so she could move on with her life. A partition lawyer got the job done. The best Placer County Partition Lawyer will be able to share information on this process with you.

What Are the Steps in a Partition Action?

First, a partition action is filed. A partition action can be filed if one co-owner of real property or a piece of real estate wishes to sell the property or piece of real estate in question but the other co-owners or co-tenants do not wish to sell their ownership rights. 

Second, the court may appoint a court referee to oversee the sale of the property in question. The sales procedure includes that all parties agree to the terms and conditions of the sale in writing. If the parties can not agree, as partition actions are usually very contested issues, then the referee that the court appointed may recommend terms and conditions to the court. Then the court will hold a hearing to decide whether or not to accept those terms and conditions. 

Third, in California, the property’s value will be appraised via a third party or another property appraisal with no ties to any of the parties. While this is not required in all states, it is recommended to make sure that all parties are on the same metaphorical page as to the potential sale proceeds of the property in question. 

Fourth, the referee will conduct the sale in the method most agreeable to all of the party’s goals. This can be via a public auction or a private sale. Regardless of the specific method of partition by sale, the court will determine if the sale was “fair.” If it is decided that the property’s sale proceeds had a lack of proper notice, the sale amount is not within reasonable the value of the property, or if the proceeds were unfair- the court would rule that the property will be up for sale again. 

Lastly, the court will order that the proceeds of the sale, minus any court litigated or approved offsets or costs, will be distributed equitably amongst all of the co-owners or people with interest in the property. A top Placer County Partition lawyer will be familiar with the process.

Can You Mediate a Partition Action?

Generally, anyone considering filing a lawsuit should consider all of their alternatives, including an informal resolution of the problem. This can take the form of a discussion with the other owner or owners about agreeing to sell the property, negotiating with the co-owner to create a formula to divide the proceeds from the sale, or retaining a lawyer to engage in a mediation with the other owners.

Throughout the partition process, and even on the day of trial, any of the owners can make an agreement about the sale of the property. This can happen through a phone call, through negotiations between the parties' lawyers, or through a mediation session with a retired judge or trained mediator. There are many benefits from a mediation session, including confidentiality provisions contained in the law in Evidence Code sections 1115 through 1129.

Specifically, Evidence Code section 1119, subdivision (a), provides "no evidence of anything said or any admission made for the purpose of, in the course of, or pursuant to, a mediation or a mediation consultation is admissible or subject to discovery, and disclosure of the evidence shall not be compelled in any arbitration, administrative adjudication, civil action, or other noncriminal proceeding in which, pursuant to law, testimony can be compelled to be given." A knowledgeable Placer County Partition Attorney will be able to give you good advice on these issues.

What Are Claims for “Contribution”?

Following the sale of the property, the referee will divide the proceeds of the sale among the parties in according to amounts expended for the "common benefit."

When the sale is confirmed by the court, the court may enter an order about the proceeds of sale. Under the law, the sale proceeds must be applied in a defined order. Specifically, Code of Civil Procedure section 873.820 states that the sale proceeds go towards (a) payment of expenses of the sale, (b) payment of the other costs of partition, (c) payment of any liens on the property in priority, (d) and distribution of the remainder to the parties in proportion to their shares as determined by the court.

Generally, the last part of the priority list includes what is commonly known as an "accounting" or a determination of whether one party has contributed more than their fair share to the property in the form of taxes, improvements, or other benefits for the property. For example, if one party is a 50% owner of the property, but has paid all of the property taxes for the property, then that property owner will have a claim for the remaining 50% above their interest in the property. An experienced partition lawyer will be able to help a co-owner determine their claims to the proceeds and make these arguments to the court in an effective way. An experienced Placer County Partition Attorney will be intimately familiar with these matters.

A Partition Case Study: Hammer v. Hammer (2013)

A trial court has broad authority to order an allowance, accounting, contribution, or other compensatory adjustment among the parties in a partition action according to the principles of equity. (CCP § 872.140). The following paragraphs discuss how the Court of Appeal determines whether a trial court erred in failing to surcharge a party for an amount he used from a Trust that was not in accordance with the disposition of the settlor or the Trust in Hammer v. Hammer (2013) 2013 WL 6667754.

In Hammer, Steven B. Hammer, as the executor of the estate of Charles B. Hammer, who was deceased at the time of the suit, appealed portions of a judgment on an accounting in a partition action to partition real property held as tenants in common with Charles’ brother, Michael K. Hammer.

Carol Hammer for most of her life owned and resided in a house located in Burbank, California until her death at the age of 98. In 1996, her son Charles and his wife moved into the property after they lost their home due to business failure.

At the beginning of 1998, Carol’s health began to decline, and she suffered from a condition that caused her to become blind. Consequently, Charles and his wife began providing Carol with day-to-day care and living assistance. Charles also became responsible for managing Carol’s finances.

Carol created and executed the Carol Virginia Hammer Living Trust (the Trust) and transferred the Burbank house to the Trust. Carol was the settlor, initial beneficiary, and initial trustee of the trust. Upon Carol’s death or incapacity, Charles and Michael were to serve as co-alternate successor trustees.

The trust estate provided that upon her death, Carol would give the entirety of the estate, whether real, personal, or mixed to both of her sons equally, share and share alike. In 2004, Michael began to contribute to Carol’s care which required him to travel back and forth for two weeks at a time, between his home in Southern Oregon and the Burbank property. Michael’s vehicle broke down in December 2006 after traveling home from visiting his mother so Michael, Charles, and Carol all decided that Michael would take ownership of Carol’s 2001 Chevrolet van. The title was transferred from Charles to Michael in January 2007.

In June 2007, Michael moved into the Burbank property and was completely responsible for Carol’s care until her death in October 2008. There were some services that were provided by care workers that Michael had hired and supervised, but the care was primarily by Michael.

After the death of Carol, Charles and Michael became co-successor trustees under the trust and in November 2008, they transferred the Burbank house to themselves as tenants in common pursuant to the Trust’s terms of distribution. At the time of the transfer, the house was encumbered by a deed of trust in favor of Wells Fargo securing the $250,000 line of credit, approximately $243,000 of which was in use.

Soon, the disputes between the brothers over the management of Carol’s finances led to Charles filing a complaint against Michael for partition of the Burbank house and an accounting. Charles alleged that Michael took lines of credit advances without Charles’ knowledge, permission, or consent. Michael filed an answer and cross-claims against Charles alleging that Charles had filed to account for the $100,000 line of credit advance as well as various other items of income, and asked for an accounting as well.

Sadly, while the partition action was pending, Charles passed away and Steven was appointed as executor of the Estate of Charles B. Hammer (Charles’ estate). Steven then moved for an order substituting himself, as executor and personal representative, for Charles as plaintiff in the partition action and the trial court entered the requested order for substitution on June 17, 2011.

In lieu of testimony, the parties submitted written accountings and evidence to the trial court. From this the trial court entered a judgment partitioning the property and ordering certain surcharges against Charles’ estate and Michael, respectively. Steven appealed challenging certain portions of the judgment.

Steven contended that portions of the judgment should be reversed on the grounds that: (1) the trial court lacked jurisdiction to surcharge Charles’ Estate for any sums because Michael did not file a creditor’s claim after Charles’ death as prescribed by the Probate Code; (2) the surcharges against Charles’ Estate were not supported by substantial evidence; (3) the trial court’s decision not to surcharge Michael for the $52,000 line of credit advance was not supported by substantial evidence.

To these contentions, the Court of Appeal for the Second District responded that the failure to file a creditor’s claim is not jurisdictional, and Steven had forfeited that objection by failing to preserve it in the trial court. The Court also found that substantial evidence supported the trial court’s decision not to surcharge Michael for the 2001 Chevrolet van as it was a gift Charles willingly gave him.

As to the trial court’s decision not to surcharge Michael for the $52,000 line of credit advance because those funds were distributed to grandchildren as desired by Carol Hammer, the Court of Appeal agreed with Steven that it was not supported by substantial evidence. Since it was undisputed that Michael took those funds and distributed them in a manner not authorized by Carol or the Trust, the Court of Appeal reversed and modified that portion of the judgment to order a surcharge of $52,000 against Michael. In all other respects, the judgment was affirmed.

How the Underwood Law Firm Can Help

A court’s determination of ownership interests in a property depends on the facts and circumstances of each particular case. Factors such as agreements and who pays for certain expenses for the property can ultimately affect the outcome of a partition case. If you are considering partition as an option, or find yourself defending one, then you may benefit from good legal advice on the topic. Please contact Underwood Law Firm, P.C., for an initial consultation.

How the Underwood Law Firm Can Help

A court’s determination of ownership interests in a property depends on the facts and circumstances of each particular case. Factors such as agreements and who pays for certain expenses for the property can ultimately affect the outcome of a partition case. If you are considering partition as an option, or find yourself defending one, then you may benefit from good legal advice on the topic.

Learn more here.

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