Hello, I'm Mike Hackard. I lead Hackard Law, a law firm that focuses on significant estate, trust and elder financial abuse litigation in California. I'm the author of the new book Alzheimer's, Widowed Stepmothers & Estate Crimes, now available on Amazon.
Today let's talk about what you can do if you've been cut out of a family will or trust. What options can you explore to make the right decision? Protecting beneficiary rights in estate and trust litigation requires a well-planned approach rather than shooting from the hip. With that guidance in mind, here are five points to remember:
- Calculate Estimated Damages: Whether you are facing a case of disinheritance, a contested will, delayed and denied distributions by trustees, misconduct by an executor, or multiple other estate conflicts, you'll have to make a cold, hard calculation: how much is at stake?
- Time is of the Essence: Usually settlements are reached after a lawsuit is filed rather than before. That said, experienced attorneys on opposite sides of a dispute might discuss a mediated outcome early on. They know that litigation isn't cheap, and it imposes costs in terms of time, money and stress. In addition, it's better to move quickly to safeguard beneficiary rights than sit on a case. In California, trust challenges must be filed within a 120-day window once a beneficiary is notified that the trust is irrevocable. There are some qualifiers to that, but that's the essence of the law.
- Do Your Homework: I work with my clients to compose a timeline of important facts in the case. My trust litigation team regularly checks the status of a case. Did the executor, who was appointed by the court to manage the estate, suddenly sell off the estate's assets and move to Acapulco? I've seen worse. Or is he still rolling around town in his new Escalade? Are there any upcoming filings necessary for probate court? Do you know what they are?
- Make a Plan: Remember the old saying that, "He who fails to plan, plans to fail." Hire an experienced estate and trust litigation attorney who knows how to fight these battles. While searching Google can help on many practical matters, you wouldn't attempt dental surgery on yourself after researching on the internet for a few hours. The same goes for complex trust fights. Also consider the financial side: Will estate litigation be paid on an hourly basis, by contingency or maybe some combination?
- Figure Out if You Want a Jury Trial: There are special rules for jury trials, subject to whether a case is in probate or civil court. We file matters in both the civil and probate divisions of the California Superior Court system. Civil court cases often provide a statutory right to jury trial. Depending on the facts of a case, some belong in probate court, but others are fit for civil litigation with trial by jury. Instances of elder financial abuse are a good example of when a wrongdoer should be held accountable before a jury.
If you would like a free digital copy of Alzheimer's, Widowed Stepmothers & Estate Crimes, email us at [email protected] I'm happy to share this book on a very important topic.