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Trust & Estate Litigation | From A to Z

Trust Estate Litigation A to Z Guide.jpgIt's been over 40 years since I first represented clients in a will contest. A lot has changed over the years in estate litigation on behalf of beneficiaries. We now have elder financial abuse laws that can be enforced in jury trials. These newer laws often supplement the rights and remedies available from probate courts and allow the prosecution of some claims in the civil trial courts.

Still, there are some constants. Human nature hasn't changed. Both good and bad are still with us. Disputes over estates, some contrived, others arising from good faith, still call for resolution.

I thought about this a bit and decided I'd put together a partial list of the kinds of estate and trust disputes and related issues that we've represented clients in over the years. This is a pretty big list. Not so surprising, since I handled my first probate challenge over 40 years ago. And, I've written two books about estates, trusts and elder financial abuse litigation - The Wolf at the Door: Undue Influence and Elder Financial Abuse and Alzheimer's, Widowed Stepmothers & Estate Crimes.

With all of this in mind, I hope that you find the list, if nothing else, interesting. It's in alphabetical order for my own convenience. So, here goes a list:


A

A beneficiary's right to information - is the trustee keeping you informed? Is the executor of the will keeping you informed?

A trustee faced with a possible dispute;

Abuse of discretion - a trustee might exploit their position to provide minimal funds to the beneficiary, and they might even earn more from the trust themselves.

Actions against Personal Representatives;

Adopted children issues;

Advising beneficiaries on the enforcement of their rights - something we do every day;

Advising executors when faced with claims by disappointed beneficiaries;

Advising trustees on their duties and obligations to individuals and authorities - it's important for trustees to perform their role for the well-being of the beneficiary;

After acquired property;

Afterborn child issues;

Allocation between principal and income;

Alternative dispute resolution - nearly always preferable to protracted litigation;

Annuities;

Appointment of temporary trustees;

Appointment of special administrators;

Asset valuation disputes;

Asset valuation timing;

Asset ownership disputes between estates and trusts;

Asset ownership disputes of decedent's interests in LLCs, corporations and partnerships;


B

Bank deposits;

Bankruptcy of beneficiaries;

Bank trustee problems;

Bank trustee removals;

Beneficiary designation disputes;

Breach of fiduciary duty - beneficiaries bring this claim when an executor or trustee is acting out of line.

Breach of loyalty claims;

Breach of trust claims;

Brokerage accounts misconduct;

Burden of proof in elder financial abuse cases;

Burden of proof in trust challenges;

Burden of proof in will challenges;


C

California elder abuse laws;

California elder abuse statutes - they're what enable us to hold abusers accountable through a civil trial along with punitive damages;

California trust statutes;

California will statutes;

Can grandchildren contest a will?

Can you contest a trust? You can if there's wrongdoing like undue influence.

Caregiver attorneys;

Caregiver beneficiaries;

Caregiver fraud - we've come across plenty of estate crimes committed by unethical caregivers.

Caregiver transfers;

Caregiver trustees;

Caregiver undue influence - an abusive caregiver can isolate a vulnerable, ailing elder and convince them to sign over their estate or trust.

Certificates of Independent Review;

Challenging a life insurance beneficiary designation;

Challenging discretionary trust decisions - it's decisions like these that don't always reflect the best interests of the beneficiary.

Change of circumstances;

Charitable remainder trusts;

Charities and litigation;

Circumstantial evidence;

Claims against trustees - is the trustee riding the gravy train and misappropriating funds?

Claims made against a trust;

Claims made by a trust;

Claims relating to the validity of a Will;

Class gifts;

Commingling of trust property;

Concerns over how a trust is being run - what if the trustee keeps you in the dark or spends money from the trust on themselves?

Conflicts in relation to the appointment and removal of trustees - we're ready to remove a bad-faith trustee;

Conflicts regarding the validity and construction of trust documents;

Consent of beneficiaries;

Construction of a trust;

Constructive trusts;

Contested accountings;

Contesting a life insurance beneficiary;

Contesting a will;

Contesting a will time limits - how much time do you have to file legal action?

Conversion to unitrusts;

Creditors of estate;

Creditors of the trust - there might be outstanding debts that need to be paid off before a beneficiary is paid by the trust.

Criminal records;


D

Dealing with defective or unclear wills or trust documents;

Death of beneficiaries;

Death of trustees;

Deathbed transfers;

Delivery of trust property;

Difference between executor and trustee;

Disability of trustee;

Disappointed beneficiary claims - are your rights being violated?

Disappearance of assets;

Discovery of estate assets;

Discretionary distributions from a trust;

Discretionary principal distributions from a trust;

Disinheritance;

Disinheritance clause;

Disinherited - getting unfairly disinherited can be connected to elder financial abuse or undue influence;

Dispute between income and remainder trust beneficiaries;

Dispute resolution via trusts;

Disputes arising out of lifetime gifts;

Disputes between beneficiaries - sometimes one beneficiary freezes the others out;

Disputes between trustees;

Disputes concerning administration of a trust;

Disputes concerning the distribution of trust assets;

Disputes concerning the value of trust assets;

Disputes concerning trust assets - houses are the usually the most valuable assets in these conflicts;

Disputes over the terms and validity of the wording of specific trusts;

Disputes regarding charitable trusts;

Diversification of trust investments;

Do It Yourself Trusts;

Do It Yourself Wills;

Duties of co-trustees;

Distribution of trust assets to beneficiaries - is distribution timely and made in full?

Drafting attorney records;

Drafting attorney testimony;

Drafting discovery requests;


E

Ejectment actions;

Empty safes - what happens when a decedent's safe containing a large amount of cash suddenly is empty?

Environmental cleanup of trust property;

Estate disclaimers;

Estate disputes and removing trustees and executors;

Estate taxes;

Ex-wife claims to estate after a divorce;

Ex-Parte Orders against trustees - ex-parte petitions to the court are an effective tool in countering trustee wrongdoing;

Exploitation of the elderly in California - it's a real challenge that demands community solutions;


F

Facing a will dispute;

Failure to keep beneficiaries informed - that's a violation of core trustee duties.

Failure to make trust distributions - this is also a breach of fiduciary duty.

Family business distributions;

Family trusts;

Fiduciary appointment;

Fiduciary succession;

Fiduciary litigation;

Fiduciary removal;

Fiduciary self-dealing - the trustee might be lining their own pockets at the expense of beneficiaries.

Foreign heirs;

Fraud in the inducement;

Fraudulent transfers - did a wrongdoer manage to shift estate or trust property so that it's now under their name?


G

Getting your inheritance;

Guardian Ad Litem;


H

Handling California trust and estate disputes and the co-ordination of multi-jurisdictional disputes relating to ownership of assets - properties are sometimes located across the state;

Holographic wills;

House move-outs;

House partitions;

House reverse mortgages - sometimes these can be a method of elder financial exploitation.

House sales;

How long do I have to contest a will? Remember that timing can be critical;

How to contest probate;


I

Incapacity;

Indemnity rights;

Inheritance disputes - have you been unfairly excluded from a trust or estate?

Inheritance rights of minors;

Inheritance rights of parents;

Inheritance rights of siblings;

Inheritance rights of stepchildren - in blended-family situations, conflicts can break out over what the stepmother wants versus what the biological children think is right.

Injunctions against trustees;

International trust and estates disputes - we regularly represent clients from overseas who have California beneficiary interests;

In Terrorem clauses;

Irrevocable trust disputes;

Irrevocable trust revocations;

Issues concerning the removal of trustees - we'll often look to appoint a temporary trustee in their place.

Issuing subpoenas for testamentary documents;


J

Joinder of lawsuits;

Joint bank account disputes;

Joint tenancy litigation;

Jurisdiction;


L

Laches;

Lack of testamentary capacity cases - do you know how conditions like dementia and Alzheimer's can affect an elder's capacity to make sound estate decisions?

Life estates;

Lost trusts;

Lost wills or codicils;


M

Mandatory settlement conferences;

Mediation - the best and most effective path to resolution instead of litigation that can be exhausting and expensive for everyone.

Medical evidence;

Missing gold;

Mistake;

Mortgages;


N

Nonresident aliens;

No contest clause;


O

Obtaining court directions for trustees in both hostile and non-contentious circumstances - if the trustee refuses to cooperate, we'll see about that with the court.

Opposition to probate petitions;


P

Parent-napping;

Pension plans;

Petition for trustee appointment - this is what we'll do along with removing a bad-faith trustee.

Petition for instructions;

Pour over wills;

Power of appointment interpretation;

Power of attorney accounting;

Power of attorney abuse;

Pressured gifts - this is another way undue influence is exercised on an elder.

Principal and income;

Problems between multiple fiduciaries;

Probate accounting;

Probate disputes involving disinheritance;

Probate litigation attorney;

Probate litigation lawyers - that's who we are at Hackard Law.

Problems with siblings settling estates - even though everyone is supposedly an adult, sibling rivalry can rear its heard in fights over trust assets.

Prudent investor rule;

Psychiatric testimony - this is often a pretrial and trial necessity.


Q

Quiet title actions;


R

Real estate partitions;

Receivers;

Reformation of trust;

Reformation of will;

Releases;

Removal of an executor;

Removal of a trustee;

Residuary clause disputes;

Resignation of trustee;

Resolving conflicts between beneficiaries and trustees or executors - a mediated settlement can make the most sense once everyone puts their emotions on hold and agrees to reach a compromise.

Restitution of trust property;

Resulting trust;

Reverse mortgage and beneficiary rights;

Revocable trusts;

Revocation by divorce issues;


S

Safe-deposit box;

Self-dealing attorney;

Self-dealing real estate broker;

Self-dealing trustee - is the trustee acting on their own behalf instead of for the well-being of the beneficiary?

Sham trusts;

Spendthrift trusts;

Spousal community property rights;

Spousal rights to inherit;

Standing;

Statute of limitations;

Statutory wills;

Stepmother undue influence - we litigate plenty of conflicts with a stepmother who's decided the estate belongs solely to her.

Subpoena for bank records;

Subpoena for medical records - both bank records and medical records might tell us if someone was taking advantage of the elder to loot their estate.

Surviving spouse rights;

Suspension of trustee;


T

Temporary restraining orders;

Testamentary trusts;

Testator capacity - was the testator "with it" at the time of the writing of the will?

Tort claims

Transfer of beneficiary interests;

Trespass actions;

Trust beneficiary rights - what we protect daily in California trust lawsuits.

Trust company disputes;

Trust fund babies;

Trust reformation proceedings;

Trust settlements;

Trust succession disputes;

Trustee accounting - a trustee is required to provide a transparent overview of how they've managed the trust and distributed funds.

Trustee accounting objections;

Trustee compensation - what if it outweighs distributions made to beneficiaries?

Trustee misconduct;

Trustee mismanagement;

Trustee resignation;


U

Unanimity requirement of co-trustees;

Unanticipated circumstances for trust modification or termination;

Undue influence allegations - we see plenty of cases where an elder is isolated, manipulated or coerced into changing an estate or trust in the wrongdoer's favor;

Unlawful detainer of holdover tenant;


V

Valuation;

Vesting of title;

Voting by shareholders;


W

Waiver of time;

Waste;

Will forgery - we've seen quite a few forged signatures on will and trust documents, and we've made sure the court knows about it.

Will interpretation disputes; and

Wrongful death litigation.


Z

Zero - this is what a wrongly disinherited beneficiary starts out with. It might take a contingency fee agreement with an experienced trust litigator so they can recover their rightful assets.


Okay, now that's a big list. It could easily be expanded further, but I think that the list is varied enough to give some flavor as to what our law firm and its attorneys do in estate, trust and probate litigation. Hackard Law focuses on estate, trust, probate and elder financial abuse litigation in California's largest urban counties, including Los Angeles, Orange, Santa Clara, San Mateo, Alameda, Contra Costa and Sacramento.

We represent clients who live in California, other states and even other countries who have California trust and estate related matters. We take substantial cases where we think that we can make a significant difference and there is an entity or individual who can be held accountable for their financial wrongdoing.

If you have a question about any of the terms I mentioned above and how they relate to your probate, trust or estate case and you want to speak with us, you can call us at Hackard Law (916) 313-3030.

We'll be glad to listen to your story.

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