Trust Beneficiary Litigation | Our Client’s First Call
I’m Mike Hackard of Hackard Law. One thing at Hackard Law I’m proud of is our estate and trust litigation videos on YouTube.
We’ve made over 700 videos, with seven thousand subscribers and over four and a half million views. Our videos focus on issues that families care about – trusts, estates, and elder financial abuse.
There are at least ten things that strike us, consciously or unconsciously, when we first answer a new client’s phone call.
One: The area code. You know how this goes. You see an area code displayed on your phone. I can recognize a number of them. Other times they seem peculiar.
This is not unusual. While we only practice law in California, we get calls from all over the country. I’ve also advised people from Asia, South America, Australia and Europe regarding matters that they had in California.
Two: The client’s voice. Some voices reflect ease. Others, apprehension, hesitancy or confusion.
Three: Calming. I work to calm clients who call me. We think better when we’re calmer. Little good comes from adding fuel to the emotional fire. To fire up someone who is already fired up.
Four: Story Chronology. Sometimes I help the client retrace their steps to piece together a coherent story. Some facts don’t matter, some can wait, and some are critical now.
It can feel like you’re looking at a big bowl of vegetable soup. It’s hard to see the carrots from the celery from the beans. We can’t get too far if we can’t distinguish the import ant from the unimportant.
Five: Client’s role. What’s the relationship? Spouses, ex-spouses, stepparents, stepchildren, adopted children, siblings, grandparents, caregivers, estate planners and interlopers may all be part of any one trust litigation conflict.
There can be multiple role crossovers. A trustee might also be a beneficiary. A beneficiary might also be a joint account holder, a life insurance beneficiary, or a spouse with rights greater than those provided in a will or trust document.
Six: Venue. It matters where the decedent died, where the trustee lives, and where elder financial abuse took place, or where the elder abusers now live. I need to get these facts early in a conversation.
Seven: Assets. Litigation is often challenging and complex. Whether people hire us by the hour or on contingency, assets count – their location, their nature, and their value.
Is it “all about money?” Let’s put it this way. You wouldn’t expect a will to bequeath “all my good wishes to my cousin Ernie.” Or “all my heartfelt appreciation in trust to my Uncle Harry.”
Wills and trusts are about the collection and distribution of assets. Litigation is meant to resolve these issues. Litigation takes time and money – whether hourly or contingency.
Eight: Number of plaintiffs or petitioners. Numbers count. If I hear that the client is one of ten children and that nine are happy with the trust, I know that there’s a problem. The case might well be justified, but there are some big hurdles.
If the trust has sixteen amendments over five years there’s something going on and there’s likely to be a number of unhappy former beneficiaries.
Nine: The age of the estate plan. We challenge plenty of deathbed wills and trusts. There is a wide body of law addressing these circumstances.
An older will or trust, followed by years of no changes, signals an estate plan’s stability. And that’s difficult to challenge.
Ten: Motive. I don’t like to hear that a case is about vengeance. Vengeance isn’t a goal I pursue. And it’s not my job to make someone else’s life miserable.
I will work to right a wrong – overturn a trust made by undue influence – or challenge transfers made to elder financial abusers. That’s my job.
So that’s my short introduction to how I look at our first call with a potential client. And if you are facing these problems, you are welcome to give us a call at Hackard Law: 916-313-3030. We want to hear your story.
Hackard Law: Attorneys Making a Difference
Attorney Michael Hackard
Michael Hackard is a top rated “AV” for over 20 years (“AV Preeminent is a significant rating accomplishment- a testament to the fact that a lawyer’s peers rank him or her at the highest level of professional excellence.”). Avvo also ranks him with their highest rating – “ 10.0 Rating – ‘Superb.’” Michael is also a “SuperLawyer” – an honor reserved for no more than five percent of attorneys in each state. [ Attorney Bio ]
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