Thursday, December 20, 2012

Giraldin v. Giraldin (Cal. Supreme Ct. - Dec. 20, 2012)

I won't discuss the merits of this case.  Perhaps because I only dimly understand trusts and estates, a class I never took in law school (nor studied in preparation for the bar).

I instead just want to ask a question.

The case is about a trust set up by William Giraldin.  An early line of Justice Chin's opinion says:  "William was a successful businessman and inventor and accumulated a substantial fortune."

Which led me to think:  What exactly is a "substantial fortune?"  A million dollars?  Five million?  Twenty million?  One hundred million?  A billion?  If you had to guess, what amount of money are we talking about -- in the context of a person's net worth -- when we say that someone has obtained over their lifetime a "substantial fortune?"

I ask because, as it turns out, William was worth (according to Justice Chin's opinion) around six million dollars.  So, for Justice Chin, that amount of money is a "substantial fortune."

Which I thought was low.  I was thinking it'd be a lot more. But I wondered if my thoughts on this topic were distorted, or at least out of line with what common parlance would dictate when a speaker in this context says "substantial fortune."  So I thought I'd ask.  Am I off base here?

I'm not saying that six million dollars isn't a ton of money.  It is.  And if anyone would like to give me such a sum for Christmas -- or even a healthy fraction of it -- I'll happily provide my address.

But a "substantial fortune?"  My guess is that a nontrivial number of members of the California appellate judicary have "substantial fortunes" that meet or exceed this figure.  For example, Justice Baxter has himself has amassed (and currently owns) multiple millions.  Ninth Circuit judges are often even wealthier.  Judges Berzon and Gould, for example, respectively have seven figure positions in the Fidelity and Vanguard mutual funds alone, as well as tons of other investments.  Judge McKeown owns a healthy amount of stock in just about every major publicly traded corporation.  And is there anything that Judge Wardlaw doesn't own?!

So I don't know what the precise dividing line is between "a boatload of money," an "obscene amount of cash," and "a substantial fortune."

But I thought that the last of these required more than what it cost to repair Steve Austin.