MY MOM PASSED AT AGE 60 OF CERVICAL CANCER. SHE DID NOT LEAVE A WILL, WAS MARRIED TO MY DAD, AND LEFT BEHIND 6 GROWN CHILDREN. SHE TOLD NO ONE SHE WAS ILL UNTIL THE END. NOT EVEN HER ATTORNEY. THE ATTORNEY SAID SHE TOLD HIM TO GIVE THE REMAINDER OF HER SETTLEMENT MONEY TO ONE SPECIFIC SON. ATTORNEY DID SO. NOTHING PUT IN WRITING! THE ATTORNEY LATER SAID THERE WAS 3,000 REMAINING AND HE COULD SPLIT BETWEEN THE OTHER 5 SIBLINGS AND HE DID. STILL NOTHING IN WRITING, HE JUST MAILED OUT CHECKS. HE ALSO SAID MY MOM GOT CASH ADVANCES FROM THE MONEY. WE ASKED TO SEE HER SIGNATURE FOR THE ADVANCES, HE SAID I GAVE HER CASH. MY DAD IS PASSIVE, SO I AS HER SON WANT TO KNOW CAN I SUE THIS ATTORNEY? THE PRIOR ATTORNEY ON HER CASE WAS DISBARRED AND TURNED THE CASE OVER TO HIS PARTNER.
No money could be forwarded until there was a court order allowing it to happen. The attorney has no authority to do so. Someone should have filed a petition to probate your mom's estate. If the attorney did not properly do this for you or a sibling, then the attorney has committed malpractice and could also be disbarred.
This is practically a tough case. Proof is going to be difficult and it sounds like the attorney did not keep good records and even if he does have records, if he is unethical, it may be difficult to get your hands on them. I assume the attorney was her PI attorney and had the money in trust which is how he had control. He certainly should not have distributed after your mother's death without the propery authority. Many, many issues here and you should speak directly with an attorney to see if it is worth pursuing.
You can have a oral trust in California over personal property. That is what that attorney is going to claim. The oral trust would be for the specific son. As Ms. James points out this is a proof issue. The specific son could sue for an accounting of the oral trust and seek damages for mismanagement. The attorney has very heightened standards if he was hold the clients money. Cash disbursements are a convenient excuse. A state bar claim may also be in order.
One way to force all the issues would be to open a probate and sue the attorney under Probate Code Section 850.