The Hackard Law estate, trust and probate litigation team represents both individuals and families who need to protect their inheritance or beneficiary rights in a California trust or estate. Such rights can include money, personal property, real estate and other assets like financial and investment accounts. We're dedicated to safeguarding estates and trusts that have been hijacked by wrongdoers such as bad trustees who neglect their fiduciary duties and violate the legal rights of beneficiaries.
When a client engages Hackard Law to defend their interests, we analyze their case and prepare for battle - we develop plans for tough litigation ahead. Your circumstances matter - we find the stories of our clients to be the most powerful tool in attaining recovery, and we present the facts so that justice can be served. At times these steps themselves will prove advantageous, since an opponent will seek negotiation and resolution before the dispute hits the courtroom. Otherwise, we are ready to bring the fight to an estate or trust hijacker and vigorously prosecute wrongdoing in civil court.
A typical obstacle to effective probate and trust litigation is the cost - after all, estate disputes generally are not cheap when there are attorney's fees that inevitably have to be paid. Thankfully, California law allows for contingency fee arrangements with clients. That means that you don't have to pay upfront; rather, an agreed-upon percentage of the recovery will be only be awarded upon successful completion of your case. Like the special fuel that enables a rocket to take off and reach its destination, contingency fees are vital to propelling an estate or trust litigation case toward favorable resolution. At Hackard Law, we're proud to attain recovery for clients across California on a contingency basis - from Los Angeles and San Diego to Sacramento, San Francisco and Alameda County.
If you need to an experienced attorney to look at your case and would like to speak with us, call Hackard Law at (916) 313-3030.
Trust & Estate Litigation | We Protect Clients on a Contingency Fee Basis
Under Michael Hackard's leadership, Hackard Law's litigation team of tried and tested attorneys is focused on daily management of each of our estate, trust and probate cases throughout California. Every case is unique and requires its own special approach, but there are common factors in estate disputes that we encounter with regularity. These include the following allegations:
Incapacity to Sign a Will: In order to sign a will, a person must possess the proper mental and testamentary capacity necessary to comprehend the provisions of an estate document. That means the individual has to be of sound mind and not subject to debilitating mental conditions (such as dementia or Alzheimer's). California Superior Courts (Probate Code Section 810-812) apply the following standards to determine whether a person has the capacity to sign a will or other testamentary document:
- "A deficit in the mental functions... may be considered only if the deficit, by itself or in combination with one or more other mental function deficits, significantly impairs the person's ability to understand and appreciate the consequences of his or her actions with regard to the type of act or decision in question."
- "The court may take into consideration the frequency, severity, and duration of periods of impairment."
- "This part applies only to the evidence that is presented to... a court determining the capacity of a person to do a certain act or make a decision, including, but not limited to, making medical decisions."
When an individual signs a trust document or will without possessing the necessary mental capacity to make such decisions, an estate or trust is in danger of being hijacked through undue influence. That's where Hackard Law steps in to stop the estate hijacker.
Undue Influence: If a will or trust was made under conditions pointing to undue influence, this puts the validity of such a document in serious doubt. Undue influence is a common problem in California probate law, especially regard to disputes over estate property and funds. California Superior Courts define undue influence as determined by the following four basic factors:
- The vulnerability of the victim;
- The influencer's source of power and opportunities for abuse;
- Emotional, psychological and legal manipulation as undue influence actions and tactics; and
- Unfair and unnatural transactions or outcomes.
Wills or trust agreements that are the product of undue influence must not be allowed to go forward - a family could have its entire inheritance stolen by an estate predator. Hackard Law attorneys will quickly take legal action on behalf of clients to prove the will invalid in court and restore estate and trust property and assets to the rightful beneficiaries. We hold wrongdoers accountable for their bad behavior - if appropriate, we will seek damages as part of the recovery.
Breach of Fiduciary Duty: Trustees, as well as guardians, conservators and personal representatives of estates, are classified under the California Probate Code as fiduciaries. Fiduciaries are bound by the law to act according to the highest legal and ethical standards - and that means in the interests of beneficiaries. State law (Probate Code Section 16000-16015) requires these key standards to be observed:
- Loyalty: "The trustee has a duty to administer the trust solely in the interest of the beneficiaries."
- Impartiality: "If a trust has two or more beneficiaries, the trustee has a duty to deal impartially with them."
- Honesty: "The trustee has a duty not to use or deal with trust property for the trustee's own profit or for any other purpose unconnected with the trust."
Should a trustee choose to act contrary to the terms of a trust and abuse the rights of beneficiaries, Hackard Law is there to ensure that bad trustees are held to account and removed if necessary. Violating the integrity of a trust is a severe breach of fiduciary duty and must be answered under the full force of the law.
Elder Financial Abuse: Elder financial abuse is more common than you might think in California, and it can often lead to the theft of entire estates or trust assets. While elder financial abuse is an underreported crime, there are fortunately new tools to fight it and get recovery through litigation. Now under the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act, the State of California allows for elder financial abuse claims to be heard in civil court by a jury of your peers rather than just in probate court. This means that there's already a greater possibility prevent further exploitation and make predators pay for what they've done (Welfare & Institutions Code Section 15657). The elements of elder financial abuse can be distilled to the following:
- An individual (and/or his/her assistant) took/hid/appropriated/obtained/[or] took the decedent's property;
- The victim (the decedent) was 65 years of age or older;
- The taking was for a wrongful use with the intent to defraud or by undue influence; and
- The decedent was harmed.
Elder financial abuse is often linked to undue influence and breach of fiduciary duty, and at Hackard Law we work to uphold accountability and a move toward a better future.
The Hackard Law team also regularly represents clients in lawsuits that concern:
- Will contest
- Disputed deed of trust
- Forgery of a will
- Trust or will construction
- "Missing" will
- Estate fraud
- Removal of trustee
- Removal of fiduciary
- Domicile jurisdiction
- Misappropriation of trust assets
- Abuse of power of attorney
- Guardianship disputes
- Determination of heirs
- Judicial modification of trusts
Headed by 40-year veteran Super Lawyer Michael Hackard, Hackard Law is proud to protect the interests of clients throughout California. While based in Sacramento, Hackard Law attorneys regularly represent both individuals and families in San Francisco and the East Bay; Los Angeles County; San Diego; and Sonoma County. If you're facing an estate or trust dispute and need a fighting chance, you can call us at Hackard Law: (916) 313-3030. We'll be happy to speak with you.