Fresno farmer Everett "Bud" Rank Jr. was a legend — a World War II gunner's mate in the South Pacific who came home to serve in the Nixon and Reagan administrations and later on the Clovis Unified School District board.
Bud Rank Elementary School in Clovis is named in his honor.
When Rank died in June 2012 at age 90, he left a sizable trust for his wife, Evelyn, and three daughters: Ginny, Judy and Patricia.
Now, two of his three daughters are engaged in a family feud over his and his wife's assets, according to a Fresno County Superior Court lawsuit. At stake is the family's 19.6-acre ranch on Friant Road near the San Joaquin River in northeast Fresno which is worth more than $780,000, according to the real estate website Zillow.
Ginny Hovsepian, herself a Clovis Unified school trustee, has sued her older sister, Judy Rank, accusing her of isolating their elderly mother and convincing her to change her estate plan in order to get sole title to the family ranch.
In the lawsuit, Hovsepian says her mother's execution of the deed in November 2017 was "the result of undue influence and not of Evelyn's free will."
The lawsuit was filed about six months after Evelyn Rank's death on Jan. 25 at age 91. Her obituary said Mrs. Rank was a community volunteer and devoted homemaker who "created a warm, welcoming home."
Judy Rank, 68, a retired Clovis Unified teacher who taught at the school named for her father, and Hovsepian, 66, could not be reached to comment. A telephone call to Hovsepian's attorney, Donald R. Forbes, was not returned. Fresno attorney Paul C. Franco, who represents Judy Rank, declined to comment Tuesday other than to say: "This is a private family matter."
The lawsuit says Patricia Rank, 69, has committed no wrongdoing, but is named "as a party only to allow the court to render complete relief."
The lawsuit gives only Hovsepian's and her lawyer's account of what happened:
In October 1999, Bud and Evelyn Rank formed a family trust. About 10 years later, the trust was amended to add Hovsepian as a co-trustee with her parents. According to the lawsuit, it was the Ranks' wish upon their death for the trust to be equally divided by their three daughters.
The lawsuit says Evelyn Rank, since the 1950s, used a hearing aid and is "unsophisticated in financial matters." She relied on the advice of her longtime accountant and family attorney. Neither accountant nor attorney was identified in the lawsuit, but the trust was created for the Ranks by the Fresno law firm of Richardson, Jones & Esraelian.
The lawsuit says the family's dynamics changed when Bud Rank died on June 3, 2012. Judy Rank moved in with her mother in the family's home on Friant Road and removed her mother's special phone equipment that enabled her to communicate. "Once the phone device and landline were removed, Evelyn became isolated and her contacts and communications were subject to control by Judy," the lawsuit says.
In May 2013, Hovsepian resigned as trustee of the family trust and Judy Rank became co-trustee with her mother.
Around 2015, Evelyn Rank's heath worsened. She suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease which required her to take oxygen. She also wore a leg brace and "was very fearful of falling."
Hovsepian contends in the lawsuit that her mother had told her daughters that she would not change her estate plan. But once Judy Rank moved in with their mother, the lawsuit says, their mother "became confused and susceptible to Judy's influences and suggestions."
"Judy nurtured a special confidential role with Evelyn by claiming, among other things, that plaintiff had taken or embezzled money" from the trust, the lawsuit says.
"These claims are untrue," the lawsuit says, but Hovsepian "believes that Evelyn believed these false claims to be true."
According to the lawsuit, Judy Rank hired Franco to do a series of legal maneuvers to turn the Friant Avenue home over to Judy Rank a few months before their mother's death.
On November 3, 2017, Evelyn and Judy Rank, as co-trustees of the family trust, signed over the deed to the Friant home to Evelyn Rank. That same day, Evelyn Rank signed over the deed to Judy Rank, the lawsuit says.
After her mother's death, according to Fresno County property records, Judy Rank on June 20 signed over the deed to herself as trustee of the Judy L. Rank trust.
Hovsepian contends in her lawsuit, filed July 2, that her mother would not have freely given the Friant home to Judy Rank. She is asking a judge to declare that Judy Rank breached her fiduciary duties as a co-trustee of the family trust and find Evelyn Rank's transfer of the deed was the result of undue influence.
Hovsepian also wants a judge to rescind the deed transfers, and restore the family trust so each sister shares equal interest in ownership of the family ranch. A case management conference with Judge Rosemary McGuire is scheduled for late October.