Trust and Estate Litigation: Everything You Need to Know

Trust and Estate Litigation Defined

Trust litigation refers to any dispute between trust beneficiaries and the trustee. If the beneficiaries of a trust have reasons to believe that the trustee failed to discharge their duties with diligence or misappropriated trust assets, they can file a lawsuit against them. Trust beneficiaries can also initiate trust litigation to contest the trust, resolve disputes over asset distribution, get a trustee fired and replaced by another person they trust, and seek approval from court to modify the trust.

Estate litigation refers to legal proceedings initiated by the beneficiaries of an estate to resolve disputes over the settlor’s assets. Often, this involves challenging the will in a court either to have it tweaked or declared void. Here is a list of some of the important aspects of trust litigation that Santa Rosa citizens should be aware of.

The Trust and Estate Litigation Process

There are mainly seven stages of trust and estate litigation:

  • Research and Investigation: This involves determining the nature of the conflict. Your attorney will ask you several questions and require you to share any relevant communication from the opposing party or their counsel. They will also need the names and contact information of people who have direct knowledge of the issue.
  • Pleading: A trust beneficiary files a lawsuit outlining the causes of disputes between them and the trustee/trustees and requesting the court to take appropriate action. The defendant must respond to the plaintiff’s complaint within the stipulated time frame.
  • Discovery: Once a lawsuit is filed, both parties start gathering evidence and information to support their claims. Trust documents are exchanged and depositions are conducted. A party in the lawsuit may also submit a set of questions to the other party. The recipient is under oath to answer all the questions in writing.
  • Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR): Once the discovery phase is completed, the parties can try ADR methods such as arbitration and mediation to resolve their disputes.
  • Expert Witness Depositions: Expert witnesses help legal counsels build an effective legal strategy. Say, a beneficiary to a will is contesting it, claiming that the opposing party used undue influence and pressured the testator to change the will, they can hire a neuropsychologist to provide testimony about the testator’s mental condition.
  • Trial: If the parties fail to reach an agreement, the matter reaches court. The legal counsel of the defendant and the plaintiff examine and cross-examine witnesses and examine evidence to prove their clients’ claims.
  • Appeal: After the trial is completed, either party may challenge the judgment in a higher court.

Key Parties in Trust and Estate Litigation

The key players involved in trust and estate litigation include:

At Johnston & Associates, we have our clients’ best interests at heart and have been serving Santa Rosa & Sonoma County residents for over 20 years. Our attorneys use their decades of experience and legal knowledge to build foolproof legal strategies. To make an appointment, call (707) 545-6542.