When you've suffered an injustice, you need to right the wrong. If your brother basically steals your elderly mother's home, you're going to demand accountability. In estate, trust & probate litigation, that means taking the facts and showing how they fit the law. Our estate attorneys serve new clients through referrals, our reputation and effective advocacy. Forty years of lawyering provides a wealth of experience in representing family members whose inheritances have been taken or threatened by the wrongdoing of one or more family members.
"My brother stole my mom's house" is a scenario often repeated in one form or another. When wronged family members come to us, they don't present their concerns in ways that conform to legal jargon - we don't hear about breach of fiduciary duty, statutory elder abuse or the particularities of probate law. It's our job to figure out the law after we've heard the facts. And we appreciate that our clients tell us the facts in their own words - not trying to meet any real or perceived legal standard.
So do people really say things like "my brother stole my mom's house?" You bet they do. They also say things like: "My stepchildren took all of my husband's assets while he was in the hospital;" "My stepmother got my father to disinherit me and to name my stepmother's children as his sole beneficiaries;" "My brother used my dad's power of attorney to take all of my dad's money when my dad was in an Assisted Living Facility and suffering from Alzheimer's disease;" and "my dad is 93 years old and just gave his house to his niece who has been his caretaker for the last three months." Of course we could go on, but you get the idea - these things happen - and for those of us who do estate litigation, such stories are hardly rare.
What do you do if your inheritance has been taken or is threatened by another family member? I'll start with some guidance that I draw from my experience:
- An estate planner is not an estate litigator. This conclusion needs some elaboration. There are some great estate litigators who are also great estate planners - but this is rare. The rigors, strategy and tactics of litigation are a somewhat uneven fit with the more evenly-paced practice of estate planning. The differences can be as dramatic as the style and comportment of a mediator from a prizefighter.
- Get a second, maybe even a third opinion. We have seen meritorious and ultimately successful cases that were rejected by estate planners or other estate litigators. In the same way, we're sure that another lawyer or law firm successfully resolved some of the cases that we didn't take. And that is okay. We may have different views as to the viability of a case. Lawyers, like Doctors, do not march in lockstep.
- Take some time to understand your emotions. We understand that estate litigation is full of stresses - among them a sense of betrayal by other family members or even the deceased. Amidst this betrayal is a sense of guilt. "Am I greedy for even caring about this?" "I should be mourning but instead I'm angry." "What is an estate dispute going to do to our family?" These emotions and feelings are worthy of reflection.
A lifetime of planning should not be overturned by the undue influence of a relative or other person who takes advantage of an ailing or already deceased person's vulnerability. Nobody likes vultures. Sometimes the stresses and grief associated with a loved one's passing causes people to do strange things. That's okay. But what's not okay is the failure to right wrongs that may have been committed under understandably difficult circumstances.
So if your "brother stole your mother's house" or something similar, we are happy to listen to your story - and if appropriate - we work to right the wrong.