Risk Factors in Estate & Trust Litigation
Estate and trust lawsuits are comparable to a first-response operation after a crime or disaster has occurred. The police arrive to the scene of a crime, firefighters race to a burning house, and estate and trust litigators take legal action in court to stop wrongdoing and recover assets. In the aftermath of any incident, first responders will file an after-action report to determine what caused the emergency situation. In the same way, trust litigation attorneys will assess the risk factors that led to estate disaster.
What we’ve seen in our protection of beneficiaries across California fits into specific patterns of risk. While every story of estate fraud or elder financial abuse is unique, they share common features that raise the threat level for misconduct by a trustee, family member, or caretaker. There are three major risk factors to watch out for:
First, Blended Family/Stepmother Trouble: Time and again we’ve seen conflicts over estates and trusts erupt between stepmothers and stepchildren. I even devoted an entire chapter to it in my book The Wolf at the Door: Undue Influence and Elder Financial Abuse. Blended family dynamics are often unstable by their very nature, and nearly one out of five children live in a blended family situation. That number is only set to grow, and uneasy relationships with a stepmother will increase the risk of estate disputes.
Second, Alcoholism and Substance Abuse: When addiction to alcohol or drugs is a problem among one or more family members, its effects will inevitably reverberate into other areas of life. An addict can loot an estate or trust for months or even years, effectively stealing from beneficiaries. By the time anyone else finds out, it might be too late to recover the money. Wherever possible, we take immediate measures to remove an addicted trustee or ensure they can’t drain trust funds to pay for their legal defense.
And last, Debt and Gambling Addiction: Out-of-control spending and a destructive gambling habit can fuel an estate fire and burn down the last remaining funds in a trust. Like the substance abuser, a caretaker or family member addicted to gambling can commit elder financial abuse or exercise undue influence to get their hands on the cash they desperately seek. Quick court actions are required to safeguard vulnerable elders and beneficiaries from further harm.
Life is full of risk, and some of it is unavoidable. That said, as one of California’s leading estate and trust litigation firms, Hackard Law works to prevent unnecessary risk, obtain recovery for beneficiaries, and hold wrongdoers accountable. We represent clients throughout the state, including in Los Angeles, Orange, Santa Clara, San Mateo, Alameda, Contra Costa and Sacramento counties. Call us today at 916-313-3030 to see how we can best help you.
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