In probate litigation, attorneys are called to represent client interests in full and minimize risk to client assets. Part of this mission is ensuring client privacy. No one wants their business, financial, or other information needlessly exposed to the public eye, and that's why a skilled attorney will design a trust to protect the privacy of an estate and its beneficiaries.
A trust should be crafted with special attention to balancing interests, because once it's under dispute and subject to litigation, all bets are off. Privacy, a principle that almost all Americans highly value, oftentimes goes out the window when a case goes to court and the process of discovery begins. This is why our sixteenth president Abraham Lincoln, himself an attorney, advised the following with regard to lawsuits and litigation:
Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker the lawyer has superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.
A recent article by The Wall Street Journal's Anna Prior makes the exact same point, providing a number of options to steer clear of trust litigation in order to preserve the privacy of a trust. The initial composition of the trust document itself is the first line of defense against potential disruptions further along.
Sufficient flexibility in the structure of the trust, along with keeping beneficiaries informed of ongoing distribution of assets, goes a long way in eliminating causes of conflict. Appointment of a financial professional as trustee denotes fairness and impartiality in dealings with beneficiaries, and a trustee should be well-versed in family dynamics to mitigate problems that might arise between parties.
Peace of mind and client privacy are best secured when trust documents are initially drafted, but what happens if a trust comes into dispute? Lincoln's advice is still golden: there are still ways to protect privacy and strike a decent compromise without stepping into a quagmire of costly and seemingly endless litigation.
A far preferable alternative to litigation is mediation, which is conducted in privacy and not subject to the public record. While mediation can in some instances be an intense process, it's certainly more cost-effective than litigation - plus it's free of all the attendant pressures of official court business. Attorneys in trust cases must be ready to do battle in probate litigation, but for the sake of client interests and privacy, there's a whole toolkit of options available to resolve a dispute before escalating to that final step.
If you're facing potential estate, trust or probate litigation and need an experienced professional who understands what you're going through, you can call us at Hackard Law. We serve clients throughout California, from Los Angeles and Sacramento to Alameda, Contra Costa and San Diego. Our number is 916-313-3030, and we look forward to speaking with you.