Trust & Estates Litigation

Trust and Estates litigation refers to the legal process of resolving disputes involving trusts and estates, which are legal mechanisms for managing and distributing a person’s assets upon death or incapacitation. This highly specialized area of law can encompass a variety of issues, including challenges to the validity of a will or trust, disputes over the interpretation of estate planning documents, and allegations of misconduct by a fiduciary.

Definition of Trust and Estates litigation

Trust and Estates litigation refers to the legal process of resolving disputes involving trusts and estates. A trust is a legal arrangement in which a trustmaker or settlor transfers ownership of their assets to a trustee to hold and manage for the benefit of a third party, the beneficiary. An estate is the complete collection of a person’s assets, including real estate, personal property, and financial assets. Trusts and estates may be established during an individual’s lifetime or upon their death and are often governed by state law.

Importance Of Trust and Estates Litigation In The Legal System

Trust and Estates litigation is an important part of the legal system because it helps to ensure that the wishes of the trustmaker or decedent are carried out and that the assets of the trust or estate are distributed according to the terms of the trust or will. It also helps to protect the rights of the beneficiaries and other interested parties and to hold fiduciaries accountable for their actions. Trust and Estates disputes can be emotionally charged and have significant financial implications, so it is important that they are resolved in a fair and orderly manner.

Types Of Trust and Estates Disputes

  • Will Contests

A will contest is a legal challenge to the validity of a will. Will contests may be filed on the grounds that the will was not properly executed, that the testator (the person who made the will) was not of sound mind at the time the will was made, or that the testator was subjected to undue influence or fraud.

  • Breach Of Fiduciary Duty: 

A fiduciary is a person entrusted with the care and management of another person’s assets. Fiduciaries have a duty to act in the best interests of the trust or estate and to handle the assets with care and diligence. A breach of fiduciary duty occurs when a fiduciary fails to meet these obligations.

  • Undue Influence And Lack Of Capacity: 

Undue influence refers to excessive or improper pressure to persuade someone to act a certain way. Lack of capacity refers to the inability of a person to understand and make decisions about their assets due to mental incapacity or disability. Both of these issues can be raised in Trust and Estate litigation as grounds for challenging the validity of a trust or will.

Disputes over the interpretation and implementation of trusts and estates documents: Trusts and estates documents, such as wills and trust agreements, can be complex and open to interpretation. Disputes can arise over the meaning of particular terms or provisions or the proper way to administer the trust or estate.

Resolving Trust and Estate disputes

There are several options for resolving Trust and Estate disputes, including alternative dispute resolution methods, such as mediation and arbitration, and litigation in court.

  • Alternative dispute resolution Methods

Mediation and arbitration are alternatives to traditional litigation in court. Mediation is a voluntary, confidential process in which a neutral third party (the mediator) helps the parties reach a mutually acceptable dispute resolution. 

Arbitration is a more formal process in which the parties present their case to an arbitrator, who makes a binding decision on the dispute. Both mediation and arbitration can be faster and less costly than litigation in court, and they can often help the parties to preserve their relationships.

  • Litigation in Court

If a Trust and Estate dispute cannot be resolved through alternative dispute resolution, it may be necessary to litigate the case. This involves filing a lawsuit, serving the other party with a complaint, and engaging in the discovery process, which involves exchanging information and documents relevant to the case. The case may proceed to trial, where a judge or jury will decide the outcome.

Representation in Trust and Estate litigation

Attorneys and legal professionals play an important role in Trust and Estate litigation. Attorneys can provide legal advice, represent the parties in court or alternative dispute resolution proceedings, and handle legal filings and paperwork. Other legal professionals, such as paralegals and legal assistants, can also assist with research and other tasks related to the case.

Self-representation is also an option in Trust and Estate litigation. However, it is generally not recommended, as the laws and procedures involved can be complex and difficult to navigate without legal training. Self-represented parties may also be at a disadvantage against parties who are represented by an attorney, as the attorneys are more familiar with the legal system and have more experience in courtroom proceedings.