Estate attorney’s actions called into question

May 4, 2010

By KAREN VELIE

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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73 Comments

  1. slorealitycheck says:

    What a scum bag. I hope everyone out there remembers that name and If you are looking for an Estate
    Attorney I would not choose him and if he is unscrupulous in his career, why vote for him?

    (4) 10 Total Votes - 7 up - 3 down
  2. willie says:

    I know Attorneys are legal experts
    But
    Something just doesn’t seem right about giving $2,000,000 to a member of a law firm who wrote up your Trust.

    Maybe I will feel better if Zimmerman donate ALL of it to a good charity.
    Did someone say “NO!” “Its mine!” “All legally mine!”

    (6) 10 Total Votes - 8 up - 2 down
    • willie says:

      Give every nickle of it to a SLO charity and I will never have doubts about him again!

      (2) 8 Total Votes - 5 up - 3 down
  3. willie says:

    Is a Will and Trust legally valid if signed by someone suicidal?
    It would seem more ethical for an attorney to advise his client to donate to an agreeable charity rather than his son in law.
    The law firm must have been aware of his state of mind with “do-not-resuscitate” order.
    But then again we are looking at more than two million $.
    I don’t believe a person who is suicidal to be in their right mind and I find it a joke to direct the trust of $2 Million to the law firm’s son in law or even an attorney to seriously allow this arrangement.
    He was taken advantage of!

    (9) 15 Total Votes - 12 up - 3 down
    • Cindy says:

      Willie says “I don’t believe a person who is suicidal to be in their right mind and I find it a joke to direct the trust of $2 Million to the law firm’s son in law or even an attorney to seriously allow this arrangement.”

      HUH?? What’s this about directing fun’s to the law firms son in law? Do you know something that the rest of us don’t know?
      BTW- The will was prepared in 2005, there is no indication that Treadwell was not of sound mind at that time or even at the time of his death. There is no indication that he committed suicide and no way to prove it. It is reported that Zimmerman stated that he believed he committed suicide however that is not the cause of death on his death certificate. Even if he did commit suicide it has nothing to do with his state of mind 3 years earlier when he executed his will.

      (1) 11 Total Votes - 6 up - 5 down
      • willie says:

        Thank you for updating me, the more information the less a disturbing closure.

        (-1) 1 Total Votes - 0 up - 1 down
      • cheseburger says:

        Maybe like my friend Bradly Jordan in Hawaii he, “committed suicide with a gun to his head,”,,,, hanging from a rope. LEO should investigate homicide in this case.

        (-3) 3 Total Votes - 0 up - 3 down
    • RU4Real says:

      Today the Trib has finally printed an article about Katcho’s possible repacement for Supervisor. I added to the blog referring people over to your article to better inform themselves on Mike Zimmerman. I hope your piece opens peoples eyes on the lack of ethics this man has. He still needs to be investigated by the State Bar.

      (8) 22 Total Votes - 15 up - 7 down
      • Anna says:

        Even if Mr. Zimmerman is ivestigated by the State Bar, someone should also look into why Judge LaBarbera signed the Orders presented to him (perhaps without even reading them) and making sure that the attorney was not misrepresenting the client’s wishes as expressed in his Will and Trust.

        The Order Settling First And Final Account and Report of Executor… is written in plain English. Why didn’t the Judge require a FINAL ACCOUNTING from this estate? For the document to allow for Mr. Zimmerman to put everything into his name for final distribution and then not inform the court of what that final distribution is was unconscionable.

        So not only should Mr. Zimmerman be reported to the State Bar, someone should alert the powers that be about the Judge as well.

        Shame on Mike Zimmerman and shame on Judge LaBarbera

        (6) 18 Total Votes - 12 up - 6 down
  4. standup says:

    Right. All we need in public office is another crook. Attorneys are no better than what comes out of a dogs rear end. I can’t stand any of them.

    (7) 29 Total Votes - 18 up - 11 down
    • Anna says:

      One only needs to go to the Courthouse and obtain a copy of the Order of Final Distribution on Waiver of Accounting and Allowing Compensation to Attorney for Ordinary Services in the case #PR 080141 to know that the reporter has her facts straight. Below are exerts from this document:

      Pages 3-4:

      2. “The Executor (Mike Zimmerman) has in his possession belonging to the estate, a balance at the appraised value of $1,347,727.38, of which $329,269.67 is in cash.”

      6. “Petitioner (Mike Zimmerman) is authorized and directed to pay to DAVID and ZIMMERMAN, petitioner’s (Mike Zimmerman) attorneys, $26,477.27 as statutory compensation for services rendered in the administration of this estate;”

      7. “By the terms of the Will, the estate in the possession of the Executor remaining for distribution shall be distributed as follows:

      “(1) To MICHAEL ZIMMERMAN, Trustee of THE TERENCE TREADWELL TRUST…The real property situated in the County of San Luis Obispo, located at 1156 – 1158 Shannon Lane, Arroyo Grande…APN: 044-322-056”

      “(2) To MICHAEL ZIMMERMAN, Trustee…The 1997 Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder GST 2 door convertible, VIN 4A3AX552VE159992,”

      “(3) To MICHAEL ZIMMERMAN, Trustee…The rest and residue of the probate estate.

      I did not find any provisions for an actual “Accounting” of the disbursement of the money other than to MICHAEL ZIMMERMAN.

      I leave it up to your readers to decide if this is the kind of attorney that they would want handling their estate.

      (21) 35 Total Votes - 28 up - 7 down
      • Cindy says:

        Zimmerman has been holding onto the proceeds from this estate for two years. I know the property has been sold for some time now and I have to wonder why he hasn’t distributed the proceeds?
        Usually the beneficiaries would be complaining but in this case the bulk of the estate was left to a pacific type of genre for Zimmerman to pick and choose from. The beneficiaries are unaware that they even exist, as Zimmerman has yet to name them so there is no one to complain or take note that the funds remain undistributed. The daughter of course received her inheritance from an existing insurance policy and the girlfriend received the amount as per Treadwells wishes, so did a specific animal group. Looks like Zimmerman is just holding on to the rest! WHY?

        (7) 21 Total Votes - 14 up - 7 down
        • cheseburger says:

          Cindy, with all due respect,” TO SPEND IT!”

          (0) 2 Total Votes - 1 up - 1 down
    • hotdog says:

      I guess you missed last week’s New Times cover article about Mike Blank. He is a hero lawyer, defending the powerless at low pay. He has done this for many years. There are good lawyers out there, as there are good politicians. The bad ones give the others a bad name.
      And look at all the crooked cops we have here-are all cops bad? We even have some very strange chiefs of police, who don’t seem to act professionally nor manage their departments well-but then there is Joe Cortez from south county who seems a straight up chief. I’m thinking of voting for him for sheriff.

      (3) 9 Total Votes - 6 up - 3 down
      • cheseburger says:

        Mike Blank’s name just came up in a wrongful eviction case of one of my neighbors, he is trying and helping them, this god forsaken mentally challenged woman named Brenda Stone in Los Osos, she and her caretaker “Barry” have been the best neighbors ever, KUDOES to MIKE BLANK, maybe he can help god save us all from the money grubbers. No need to name them the keys on my board are wearing out, we know who they are!

        (2) 4 Total Votes - 3 up - 1 down
  5. willie says:

    Although there is an Attorney Client Privilege, a “do not resuscitate” requested by a client is NOT of clear and sound mind unless there is a terminally ill condition known to the law firm!
    Zimmerman said he was not aware that he was the trustee of Treadwell’s estate until after the man died because his father-in-law and deceased law partner wrote the trust, yet Zimmerman told the deputies that the deceased had NO living immediate family members, yet one materialized. One has to wander if Treadwell was of clear and sound mind to not remember he has a daughter while the law firm was drafting the trust!
    Sheriff’s deputies should have seized the $154,000 until the doubts have been removed rather than dismiss it to the trust or respect of the word an “Attorney” associated to his name.

    (4) 14 Total Votes - 9 up - 5 down
    • sailorgirl says:

      My husband & I have “DNRs”.
      Our doctor has copies of both. Arroyo Grande Community Hospital has copies of both and we have copies of both. Our families know of our wishes as well.

      I do not walk around with it in my purse, nor does my husband carry a copy in his back pocket. They are not sitting out on our dining room table, or on top of the TV either, nor are they pinned to our shirts when we are in our home.

      Our attorney’s name does NOT appear on our DNRs

      Yet in some manner Treadwell’s DNR was found by the deputies and either it had Zimmerman’s name on it or another document, again, out in plain sight led them to Zimmerman. Really!

      So Zimmerman get a call in the middle of the night and goes racing from the far end of Huasna Rd. to meet Sheriff’s deputies at the home of someone he does not know, and is unaware that he (Zimmerman) is the Trustee of the dead man’s trust. Really!

      Wow, what a guy.

      Oh, and Zimmerman sends me, and I guess many others, an email a couple of days ago urging me to vote EARLY!

      (12) 22 Total Votes - 17 up - 5 down
      • cheseburger says:

        I guess you could have a shirt pin made like “SOMEONE DID FOR HIM”, I find this very odd as you do, great post! Polygraph for this on the scene lawyer, that seems to be on the take!

        (1) 5 Total Votes - 3 up - 2 down
    • Saveslocounty says:

      Actually, the Public Gaurdian’s Office should have seized the funds until determination of ownership was established.

      (6) 12 Total Votes - 9 up - 3 down
    • Cindy says:

      Willie – “a “do not resuscitate” requested by a client is NOT of clear and sound mind unless there is a terminally ill condition known to the law firm!”

      DNR’s are common and contain different types of instructions. Most people request them as an instrument to protect themselves so that in the event of an unseen catastrophic injury (car accident, etc) they won’t be hooked up to life support despite being brain dead for a year.

      (5) 9 Total Votes - 7 up - 2 down
  6. sailorgirl says:

    Well, this is interesting.

    We live in the 4th district and received an email yesterday from the Zimmerman campaign.

    “Support Mike Zimmerman: Early Voting Starts Next Week!
    Mike Zimmerman, 4th District Supervisor Candidate, wants to remind everyone to get their ballots in early. With absentee voting, the June primary election starts this month.”

    Why does Mr. Zimmerman want me to get my ballot in early?

    What’s the rush?

    Is he afraid that something equaling damning will surface before June 8th?

    It’s my ballot, and I will get my ballot in on time, but not before this story (or others that may come) have a chance to develop.

    I’m not in a hurry.

    (23) 41 Total Votes - 32 up - 9 down
    • MarkJames says:

      Good for you sailorgirl,
      I have no doubt that this story will be on KVEC radio talk within the next few day’s. These stories always are. I also have no doubt that Attorney Zimmerman will be invited to tell his side of the story. Sometimes “disclosure” can be tricky as Zimmerman might have a “legal” and or perceived (real or not) “ethical” duty to withhold certain information. I hope Dave also invites non-bias legal council to this platform, who can assist the public in discerning what failures to disclose are truly a matter of law vs an attempt to obfuscate . We need to get to the bottom of this and Attorney Zimmerman deserves the opportunity to address the concerns that have been raised in this article.

      (7) 17 Total Votes - 12 up - 5 down
    • BeenThereDoneThat says:

      I couldn’t agree more. I to have voted absentee for years but will still hold on to fill out and mail till about two days before election. I want that extra time just in case any dirty laundry should come to surface, during any election.

      (4) 12 Total Votes - 8 up - 4 down
      • hotdog says:

        Good points made here, once you vote it’s gone. Mike and Karen will be on Dave’s show soon so we can hear all about it. It does seem pretty fishy to me, and CCN has never been wrong.

        (2) 14 Total Votes - 8 up - 6 down
    • Cindy says:

      All candidates push early voting. It is perhaps one of the most reliable poll samplings that can be drawn from. I don’t think Zimmerman’s Committee to elect sent the e-mails because they are expecting the other shoe to drop prior to June 8. Regardless, I’ll be voting in person at my precinct this year.

      (4) 10 Total Votes - 7 up - 3 down

Comments are closed.