Estate attorney’s actions called into question

May 4, 2010


Arroyo Grande estate and trust attorney Mike Zimmerman’s actions as the trustee of a large estate have led some to question his handling of a more than $2 million estate of an eccentric client.

“Zimmerman is, I felt, like a stranger who had come into our personal lives and stole from us,” said Lora Treadwell, the deceased’s only child. “. . . Like someone’s dirty fingers had been in my personal possessions.”

Law enforcement officials, along with family and friends of Terrance Treadwell, an Arroyo Grande survivalist who died in 2008, have been given different accountings by Zimmerman of how the man died and the whereabouts of the man’s personal belongings, including $154,000 in cash that was in the man’s home.

Everyone seems to agree that Treadwell, 71, passed away on April 28, 2008. His family and friends describe him as a recluse and a survivalist, who kept a hoard of guns and cash in his home.

On that date, around 2 a.m., someone called the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department and asked officers to check in on Treadwell. Deputies went to the home and discovered that he had died earlier that day.

They also discovered in the home a “do-not-resuscitate” order with Zimmerman’s name on it.

However, Zimmerman told CalCoastNews on Monday that he was not aware that he was the trustee of Treadwell’s estate until after the man died. He claims his father-in-law and deceased law partner had written the trust.

CalCoastNews repeatedly called Zimmerman for comment for this story since last Friday, and he returned the calls on Monday.

After the death, versions of what happened next remain murky.

Deputies called Zimmerman to the home. According to deputies, Zimmerman explained that the deceased had no living immediate family members. Sheriff’s deputies also allowed Zimmerman to leave the residence with almost $154,000 in cash that he discovered in a closet.

That amount differs from what Treadwell’s longtime girlfriend says was in the closet.

“He had just under $250,000 in the back corner of the closet in a box with a pillow and a rifle on top,” said Valen Guajardo, Treadwell’s long time girlfriend who said she was told by him about the large amount of cash.

Shortly before his death, she said, she helped Treadwell count the money, which was comprised of $100 bills stored in white envelopes.

Guajardo questions who might have called the Sheriff’s Department to ask deputies to check in on Treadwell since the man had very few friends, noting that he was a reclusive who made few acquaintances.

Guajardo, 58, a longtime friend of Treadwell’s, accuses Zimmerman of failing to follow Treadwell’s wishes.

“Zimmerman said he took the money from the house,” she said. “(Zimmerman) said they (deputies and Zimmerman) spent all night counting the money.”

Guajardo says she told Zimmerman the day after Treadwell died, that she would arrange for Treadwell’s burial. However, when she arrived three days after the death, Zimmerman had already ordered that Treadwell’s remains be cremated.

“There was no money set aside for a burial,” Zimmerman said.

However, Treadwell’s trust instructs Zimmerman to provide money from his trust to pay for a funeral, one he never got.

“I thought Zimmerman was very cruel and he didn’t handle it nicely,” Guajardo said. “I was very upset that he had decided to cremate him.

“This was a man that I love,” she said crying. “How could he do this to us.”

A month passed before Zimmerman told Lora Treadwell, the dead man’s daughter and only child, that her father had died. Other than an insurance policy, the daughter, who was noted along with Guajardo in the will, admitted that she had been disinherited by her father.

Nevertheless, she is outspoken about Zimmerman’s failure to tell her about her father’s death and what happened to his estate.

Lora Treadwell and her stepfather, Los Angeles attorney Kevin Kane, both remember Zimmerman telling them that the death was a suicide and that Treadwell had given all his animals away a few weeks before his death.

Zimmerman also said that his father-in-law and former partner had written up the trust and that he had not been aware he was the trustee and executor until after Treadwell died, Zimmerman told the daughter and Kane.

However, Zimmerman’s name is on trust documents written in 2005.

In addition, Guajardo said Treadwell had a collection of birds that had perished from smoke inhalation because of a pan he left on a burner more than eight months before his death.

The distraught Treadwell than decided to give his only remaining pet, a cockatiel, away to Guajardo.

Sheriff’s deputies said that the death, in fact, was not a suicide and did not even merit an autopsy.

An official with the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department, Senior Deputy Coroner Steve Crawford, said Treadwell’s doctor, who had seen him about three weeks earlier, attributed his death to heart failure.

In addition, the deputies said they were told by Zimmerman that Treadwell had no living relatives.

“He had no family,” Zimmerman said when asked why he had informed deputies that Treadwell had no family.

When informed that CalCoastNews had spoken to Treadwell’s daughter, Zimmerman said she was not a beneficiary because she had been disinherited by her father. He then claimed that he had not told police Treadwell had no immediate family.

In addition, though the estate was valued at more than $2 million, the money taken from Treadwell’s closet does not appear to be included in the estate’s final accounting.

Zimmerman said he put the $154,000 into a bank account and has since donated it to charity.

“I am shocked that anything as small as a pen was allowed to leave without an investigation,” Lora Treadwell said. “How is it allowed that a lawyer can leave with all that money?

“This is all so wrong,” she said. “I am frustrated and angry.”

Zimmerman, 57, has been practicing law for 31 years. Trust and estate attorneys prepare trusts and administer the estates of deceased persons.

Zimmerman married his wife, Joan, while studying farm management at Cal Poly. The father of eight children, he is currently running in the South County to replace 4th District Supervisor Katcho Achadjian, who is running for the state Assembly.

Zimmerman is one of three candidates seeking election to the supervisorial seat that Achadjian currently holds.

CalCoastNews first became aware of the Treadwell property while researching material for the three-part series about San Luis Obispo County Assessor Tom Bordonaro.

According to county computer records, Zimmerman had a homeowner’s exemption on both his own home as well as Treadwell’s home, each located in Arroyo Grande.

Following Treadwell’s death, Zimmerman stepped in as the trustee, executor and petitioner of the Treadwell trust and probate. In early 2009, Zimmerman placed Treadwell’s home — valued at $850,000 — and his Mitsubishi Eclipse Spider in his own name.

CalCoastNews recently e-mailed Zimmerman a copy of the assessor’s file that showed Treadwell’s home was owned by a Michael Zimmerman.

Zimmerman, in a telephone interview two weeks ago, said that he had never owned the property while noting the commonality of his name.

“That is a different Mike Zimmerman who lives in Shell Beach,” Zimmerman insisted. “Do you think I would be stupid enough to break the law for $700?”

In the interview Monday, Zimmerman said he was assuming it was a different property.

A closer check revealed that the computer readout did not match assessor’s file records and Zimmerman had not filed two homeowner’s exemptions. He had, in fact, owned both pieces of property.

“It was in the name of the trust and not my name,” he said.

When asked why Zimmerman had not sent the family a final accounting of the distribution of the estate, he responded, “They don’t have a right to an accounting.”

However, a local lawyer who specializes in estate law reviewed the trust and probate documents and told CalCoastNews that both Treadwell’s girlfriend and daughter had a right to a full accounting.

The lawyer, who asked not to be identified because of his relationships with people who may support Zimmerman in his race for county supervisor said that Zimmerman’s  statements were incorrect.

Zimmerman told CalCoastNews that he donated the bulk of the Treadwell estate to animal protection organizations to be selected by Zimmerman, though he admits that a small portion of the estate is to be distributed as directed in the near future.

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It makes me wonder if Mr. Z is the trustee for any of his other clients. living or deceased, or about to become deceased. Since Z says he specializes in estate planning, his statement that he did not known that he was the trustee rings especially false.

Does Zimmerman actually expect us to believe his statement that he had never owned the Treadwell property and that “That is a different Mike Zimmerman who lives in Shell Beach,” ?

In the interview Monday, Zimmerman said he was assuming it was a different property. Really!

If SLO Sheriff does not launch an immediate investigation, there is really something very wrong.

If CA Bar does not look into this, they too are derelict.

How much went to which charity?

How much is left in the estate?

Why is Mr. Zimmerman refusing to provide a complete accounting of the estate’s assets and their distribution?

How is it possible that CCN broke this story and the Trib & KSBY missed it?

I would really like to see the police report. I wonder if Karen or Lora can get a copy of it, scan it and post it as a PDF that we can access on the site? Whoever called the sheriffs at that hour of the morning would have told the police why they felt that they should check on Terrance. Who would ever know that something is wrong with anyone at 2 O’clock in the morning unless you are in that person’s presence or unless the person called someone who then called the police but we all know that Terrance had been deceased for some hours prior to the call to the sheriff’s. We also know that he didn’t have friends and so he would have called his daughter or his girlfriend and he didn’t, besides he had a do not resuscitate order and wouldn’t have called anyone for help. But I have an idea. Perhaps he knew that his time was short and he called his attorney. Perhaps he wanted to give him some instructions like what to do with all the cash that he had hidden in his closet, or maybe he had a change of heart about some other things. What if Zimmerman started to think about things and concluded that Terrance sounded like he was planning on ending his life. What if Zimmerman called the sheriffs and later, upon hearing the sad news went to the house knowing he should retrieve the cash in the closet. Maybe this explains why Zimmerman said that Terrance committed suicide. If I’m right I still have a problem because I don’t think Zimmerman did what Terrance told him to do with the cash. This also doesn’t account for why Zimmerman would deny knowing that he was the Trustee until after Terrance’s death when he examined the will. Hummm

Lora and Valen, I can’t imagine what this insensitive, thoughtless, heartless, debauchery must feel like. You both have my deepest sympathies.

Well Valen, It is beyond my comprehension that Mr. Zimmerman would cremate Mr. Treadwell when he knew that you were so close to his client and had been in his life for so many years. One would think that you certainly would have known Mr Treadwells wishes regarding his burial. Especially when you told Zimmerman that you would arrange the funeral. There certainly was a provision for Mr. Treadwell’s funeral expenses in his will/ trust. I’m stumped at these actions, I’m equally stumped at who would have been in a position to know that Mr Treadwell was in need of assistance at 2:AM! It’s noted that he was a recluse and had no friends. It’s equally odd that Mr Zimmerman took the time to do a through search of the premise at that hour of the morning and discovered the money in a box. I wonder what Mr. Zimmerman was looking for in the first place? After all he didn’t have previous knowledge that he was the executor of the estate so I doubt he knew there was cash hidden in a box in the closet on the floor in a corner under a pillow and other various items, did he? The whole thing just seems very odd, I would expect that he would have returned at a more appropriate time to conduct an inventory and open draws. What did he think he was going to find and it must have taken some time to look in every conceivable hiding place. Maybe he knew more than he is telling us?

Lora, there is absolutely no reason in the world for attorney Zimmerman not to contact you for a month to inform you of your father’s passing. It is also reprehensible that he would deny your existence to the Sheriffs that night and for many days to come. After all he was in possession of the trust at that time and obviously read enough to know that he was the legal fiduciary of the estate, and entitled to carry off somewhere between 154- 250K in cash . How is it that he missed the fact that you existed and were noted in those documents as your father’s biological daughter? Very odd, very odd indeed. I don’t like that man. I am very sorry that you were treated like that.

Zimmerman would be a great replacement for Achadjian.

“Don’t do what is best for everyone concerned, just do what is expedient and self-serving. Then claim that it’s legal.”

From an editorial cartoonist’s perspective, I can see why Zimmerman would be a great replacement. You could probably reuse most of the old Harry Ovitt drawings.

what is the receiving charity(s)?

My guess is first bank of front right pocket.

It would appear that Zimmerman has the authority to distribute these funds to the Charities of his choice. Didn’t he just open a Charity? Isn’t he the one that want’s a tax exemption on a large piece of property that he claims his charity will use as a retreat or something like that?

I absolutely feel pure disdain when I read that Zimmerman doesn’t feel that he has a fiduciary responsibility to provide an accounting to the deceased family and loved one, both of who were beneficiaries to some extent! Talk about pompous, I certainly hope Lora contacts an attorney and makes certain that Zimmerman distributes every penny of that estate appropriately. Heck at 5% (and probably more) he is “legally” going to earn an easy 100K in fees. As for him saying he wasn’t aware that he was the executor of this trust and administrator of the estate. The doc’s were prepared by his partner as probably would have been the ethical thing to do. Of course he knew.

Isn’t Zimmerman for Supervisor 2010 a 501(c)(3) charity? Has anyone checked the books to see if any large donations from the trust of a deceased gun toting bird enthusiast were made?

From the tenor of this article, I would say candidate Zimmerman has the requisite background needed to serve as an elected official in this county – if you get my drift.

Unfortunately, SLO County doesn’t even come CLOSE to the LA County Coroner’s Office! They don’t even have the same level of training, which is really a pity. One of Sheriff Hedges many failures. This “attorney” needs to be dis-barred ASAP. How could this happen if the man had a “trust document”? I hope no one votes for this scammer, he needs to be run out of town, but the man’s survivors’s should sue him for everything he has.

Holy crap. Is this what a normal Republican lawyer is like? Is there any possibility that he is from Atascadero? Damn. Perhaps Mr. Zimmerman will be indicted when Tom Bordonaro is eventually; hopefully he won’t be a County Supervisor when that happens.

To all south county voters. I would be very careful in the voting both come voting time. Do you want someone with a possibly tainted record to run your district??

BTDT: I think the bigger question is: how did Terrance Treadwell die.

No, I’d imagine south county voters wouldn’t want to elect a possibly “pretainted” supervisor anymore than the District 2 voters would want to reelect a Supervisor that is about to become very tainted himself.

Our election is about to become very interesting.

… WELL … Don’t leave us hanging …

In the old days they would of left him hanging or at least tarred and feathered!


A bit off topic here but I imagine norcomod is referring to the rumor that Bruce Gibson was the unnamed person (person X) in the Gale Wilcox scandal last year.

Word in county government circles lately is that Gibson was having an affair with her around the time of the contract negotiations with the Deputy Sheriff’s Association last year. All that while he was Chairman of the Board of Supervisors during her dismissal.

Probably just another rumor or it would have been reported here. Although come to think of it, Karen V. has certainly heard the same rumor and hasn’t dispelled it here. Hmmmm…

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