Trust & Estate Litigation
When a loved one passes away and their trust moves toward administration and distribution, disputes may quickly arise among the beneficiaries or between the beneficiaries and the trustee overseeing the administration. In many cases, such trust disputes can be as contentious as they are costly and destructive, and working through them to obtain an appropriate resolution will be essential to preserving the assets of the trust, as well as the relationships between beneficiaries who are often family.
At Walwick & Freed we are experienced at representing both beneficiaries and fiduciaries in trust disputes. While we are focused on advocating for our clients’ interests, minimizing their costs and helping them resolve their disputes outside of court is usually a parallel goal.
The appointed trustee – Many trust disputes arise because beneficiaries believe that the trustee is failing to live up to his fiduciary duties. In other words, these types of trust disputes are based on allegations that a trustee has breached his fiduciary duties. It’s important to point out here that, in some cases, an alleged breach of fiduciary duty may have been intentional on the part of the trustee (i.e., the trustee was deliberately trying to defraud the trust). In other cases, trustees who are inexperienced may make mistakes that unintentionally result in an alleged breach of fiduciary duties. Regardless of why fiduciary duties may have been breached, the fact is that, when such a breach has occurred and can be proven in court, beneficiaries can be entitled to compensatory damages.
The validity of the trust document – The bases of these types of trust disputes arise from contentions that a trust is not legally valid because at least one of the following factor is an issue:
The person who created the trust did not have the mental capacity or awareness to legally do so when the trust was developed.
Undue influence was exerted over the person who created the trust and, consequently, resulted in elements of the trust that are not aligned with the trustmaker’s true wishes.
The provisions of the trust are unclear, illegal or have been improperly interpreted by a trustee.
Representation is common in these Trust matters:
Compelling and settling accountings;
Issues relating to the duties of trustees, executors and fiduciaries;
Creditors Claims, whether seeking collection or negotiation and settling claims;
Partition of real property between beneficiaries;
Rights and interests of surviving spouses;
Title and ownership issues of real estate, securities, and other assets;
Surcharging fiduciaries that mismanage or squander trust assets;
Seek reimbursement for fiduciaries who expend their own funds to benefit an estate;
Remove a trustee or defend against efforts to remove a trustee;
Trust Contests or defense of such-contests;
Undue Influence (forcing someone to make a gift or will against their wishes) and lack of capacity Issues;
Probate litigation typically occurs when a will is created near death, or a dispute concerning distribution arises amongst the beneficiaries. In some situations, the dispute centers on the belief that the decedent executed the will while not of sound mind due to illness or mental incapacity.
Other causes of probate disputes include:
One or more beneficiaries not receiving the proper amount that is due under the will
Self-dealing by the executor affecting distribution
Claims that the decedent executed the will under undue influence
Breach of Fiduciary Duty
A fiduciary can be a trustee, personal representative, guardian or conservator who is charged under the law with special duties to care for another person's affairs. The fiduciary can be a family member, a bank or financial institution, a trust company, or a trusted friend. While professionals serving in these capacities will generally have a tremendous insight as to the duties and responsibilities that are attributed to a fiduciary, in many instances a fiduciary will be a family member or friend who does not have specialized training. The repercussions of what may be categorized as an intentional or unintentional act or lack of foresight can have devastating effects on the administration of an estate, trust or individual's assets, as well as personal liability for the fiduciary.
In cases where financial mismanagement or violations of fiduciary responsibility are involved, Walwick & Freed will work to achieve reasonable solutions either through litigation or negotiation in order to address issues of mismanagement or violations.