Friday, September 7, 2001
Appeals Court Allows Lana Turner’s Daughter to Challenge Trust Provisions
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Lana Turner’s daughter may proceed with an action to block a longtime employee from gaining the bulk of the actress’ testamentary trust, without risking a $50,000 bequest she received, this district’s Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
In an unpublished opinion, Div. Three affirmed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gary Klausner’s ruling that Cheryl Crane’s proposed “Petition for Instructions and For Modification Of Trust Dispositive Provisions” wouldn’t violate the trust instrument’s “no-contest” clause.
The 1982 document leaves all but the $50,000, plus a few personal items, to Carmen Lopez Cruz, described as Turner’s “close friend, employee and companion of over forty-five years.” A larger share was not given to Crane, the document recites, for “many reasons,” including the sums that were given to her by Turner earlier.
Turner died in 1995. Crane has become quite well known on the talk show circuit, often discussing the killing of her mother’s lover, Johnny Stompanato, in 1958.
Crane, who was 14 at the time, claimed she stabbed Stompanato to protect her mother. She was represented by legendary attorney Jerry Giesler, and the killing was ruled justifiable homicide.
Crane last year petitioned the court for a “safe harbor” declaration that her filing of a petition for instructions would not violate the no-contest clause. Such petitions are authorized by Probate Code Sec. 17200.
The basis of the petition was Crane’s claim that Cruz had herself violated the no-contest clause by suing the trustee for breach of fiduciary duties. Cruz claims that instead of inheriting the bulk of Turner’s $1.7 million fortune, she was left with “virtually nothing” because the trust was drained by taxes and expenses—including excessive lawyers’ and accountants’ fees.
Cruz pled that she was “was extremely loyal” to Turner and nursed her during her lengthy illness after Crane allegedly abandoned her.
In response to Crane’s action, Cruz said that granting the petition would “frustrate” Turner’s plans and thus violate the no-contest clause.
But Justice Walter Croskey, writing yesterday for Div. Three, said that all Crane was seeking was a determination as to whether Cruz had violated the no-contest clause. Crane, he reasoned, was not attacking “any provision of the Trust or any disposition or distribution of trust assets thereunder.”
Nor, the justice said, was the petitioner trying “to litigate some separate or independent claim which was designed to thwart the trustor’s expressed wishes or which would invalidate, or make inoperative, the Trust, or some portion thereof.”
Croskey emphasized that the appellate court was not, despite “the parties’ repeated and extensive invitations to visit the issue,” ruling on whether Cruz had violated the no-contest clause.
The appeal was argued by Perry L. Hirsch for Cruz and Darrell G. Brooke for Crane.
The case is Matter of Lana Turner Trust, B145455.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company