Trusts and Estates Litigation is the specialized practice of law involving the resolution and, if necessary, litigation of trust, estate, and protective proceedings.
Trusts and Estates Litigation proceedings encompass a variety of matters including conservatorships, guardianships, will contests, claims or defense of claims of breaches of fiduciary duties by trustees and other fiduciaries (e.g., self-dealing, conflicts of interest, breach of trust), accountings, petitions for court instructions, issues of trust modification and reformation, allegations or protection from allegations of undue influence or fraudulent conveyances, and interpretation, advocacy, or defense of testamentary capacity and decedent’s intent.
The practice of Trusts and Estates also includes litigation prevention matters including review and consultation of the policies, practices, and proposed actions of corporate, charitable, and individual fiduciaries against national or state standards for acceptable fiduciary conduct, such as the Uniform Prudent Investor Act, Uniform Principal and Income Act, and malpractice standards.
All of these proceedings take place under the auspices of state Probate Codes and the nuanced procedures of the probate and surrogate courts – the statutory authority and venue under which nearly all trust, probate, guardianship, and conservatorship matters are adjudicated.
Clients vary widely by case and include corporate or individual fiduciaries, such as trustees, executors, administrators, guardians, and conservators, and also include corporate and individual beneficiaries, conservatees, and wards.
Lawyers practicing in this area combine substantive expertise in their states' laws governing the administration of decedents’ estates, wills and intestate succession, trusts, conservatorships, guardianships, and other fiduciary issues with years of experience trying cases before both judges and juries. Lawyers also must take a collaborative and cross-disciplinary analytical approach with other disciplines such as estate planning, real estate, bankruptcy, corporate, and securities law, as well as complex civil and appellate law.
Beyond the difficult legal proficiencies demanded of lawyers in this practice area, cases involving Trusts and Estates issues also require special skills and experience in dealing with the psychology of difficult family relationships, shattering emotional experiences, such as death and incapacity, and often ill-thought-out estate plans.
In selecting counsel in a Trusts and Estates Litigation matter, it is critical to select experienced counsel as these types of cases are fraught with procedural, ethical, and state and federal tax minefields. The best of the best in this field not only bring substantial litigation and probate court experience, but also have additional skills as mediators, arbitrators, and negotiators in the non-litigated resolution of trust, estate, and protective proceedings controversies, helping resolve extremely difficult cases without costly litigation.
Bruce S. Ross and Vivian L. Thoreen