PROBATE AND RELATED LITIGATION
Probate and trust litigation is becoming more common as hundreds of billions of dollars of wealth are being transferred between generations. With this much money at stake, and given the emotional nature of any dispute involving family members, beneficiaries, and trustees, it is more important than ever to work with experienced probate and trust litigation lawyers.
For more than 25 years, Kevin J. Moore & Associates has represented clients in connection with a wide range of probate and trust-related disputes.
Lawsuits Filed by Beneficiaries
The most common types of probate litigation involve beneficiaries challenging a will or trust. Beneficiaries commonly file suits alleging that they were improperly omitted from a will or a trust, did not receive their fair share because of duress or undue influence, or otherwise were treated unlawfully. Beneficiaries can be spouses, children, and/or charity organizations.
Specific examples of our handling of will and trust contests include the following:
- We represented a daughter in litigation where the trust company was requesting instructions from the court as to how to properly value trust assets when beneficiaries were unable to agree on valuation methods. Three months after engagement and following discussions between beneficiaries, we reached an agreement on valuation nearly three years after the death of the creator of the trust. Assets included a home in the Hollywood Hills. Kevin J. Moore & Associates mediated to reach an agreement with the sibling who was holding out. One sibling argued over a $90,000 payout to be split between all four siblings. We explained that the divided amount (about $20,000 each) was not substantial enough to fight over in court. This is an L.A. Superior Court case and is currently pending distribution to all beneficiaries.
- We represented siblings in successfully obtaining shares of an estate that had gone to another sibling. After moving in with their father, that sister was involved in having the father change his estate plan to cut the other siblings out through undue influence in his vulnerable final years of life.
Litigation Involving Trustees
It is also common for disputes to arise involving the conduct of trustees who play an important role in the estate plan of a descendant. Lawsuits involving trustees are often brought by beneficiaries who allege that the trustee breached a fiduciary duty by taking or refusing to take some action on behalf of the beneficiary. Kevin J. Moore & Associates has represented parties suing trustees and defended trustees against claims that they have acted improperly.
Specific examples of our probate and trust litigation experience involving trustees include the following:
- In 2018, we represented a former trustee who had been sued as an individual by the tenant of a property owned by the trust. This was a case in L.A. County Superior Court. We worked with council for the professional fiduciary who was appointed as the successor trustee by the court and helped to settle the case without payment of any damages by our client or the trust.
- A San Marino couple, both aged eighty-five, were selling a four-million-dollar home with no estate plan. The elderly couple presented a risk due to the possibility of wandering away from the facility housing them and losing memory of where to return to. This couple also owned several million dollars in treasury bonds, but the government would not allow power of attorney authority to retitle bonds from the husband’s name to the title of the trust that was set up. Our team petitioned the court to retitle the assets. We represented the couple’s son (trustee) in drafting an estate plan, implementing it (which required petitioning the court to ensure all assets were moved into the trust created), and obtaining conservatorship.
Creditor Rights Litigation
Part of the process of administering a probate or trust allows creditors of the deceased to make claims against the estate and seek money that is owed to them. Most such claims are settled routinely as part of the process of closing out an individual’s affairs. Predictably, disputes do arise when creditors request to be paid for certain types of claims, especially if the amounts involved are substantial and/or contested. Kevin J. Moore & Associates has extensive experience litigating on behalf of such creditor’s claims.
Specific examples of creditor rights cases that we have handled include the following:
- In a very complex case totaling millions of dollars in claims, we represented a creditor who had been in arbitration with a decedent when that person passed away before a judgment was reached. The decedent’s estate filed probate in L.A. County Superior Court while the trustee of the living trust filed action in San Diego to access the estate included in the trust. During this time, the decedent’s estate made claims of insolvency, so we filed claims and petitions in both actions to secure the availability of assets to our client. We ultimately secured a favorable settlement for our client and were instrumental in the inclusion of significant terms in the agreement to protect the creditor from future claims.
- We represented a client whose claim against the estate of Michael Jackson was disallowed by the executor. We filed a petition with the probate court in the matter to dispute the claim’s rejection on the basis that it was not filed on time. The litigation, brought by international clients, sought a court order requiring the estate to accept the creditor’s claim.
The complexities of contested wills, trusts, and estates require skilled attorneys who not only know exactly how to handle the disputes but also remain sensitive to the needs and desires of the family members involved. Cases involving loved ones who may feel omitted unfairly from a will or victims of undue influence can lead to severely damaged bonds and relationships. We work diligently to reduce the stress and angst associated with these disputes and to see to our clients’ success.
If you are a beneficiary, trustee, or creditor or are otherwise in need of assistance in connection with a probate or trust dispute, please call our office at (626) 568-9300.