Santa Cruz Attorneys Litigate Estate and Trust Disputes
California attorneys provide representation for disagreements related to probate
Estate and trust assets can be life-changing for beneficiaries. So it’s not surprising that disputes often arise regarding distribution and management decisions made by executors and trustees. Litigation sometimes is necessary to prevent erroneous distributions or asset depletion linked to incompetence or misappropriation. If you are concerned about your rights as a beneficiary, or your reputation and liability as a trustee or executor, our Santa Cruz estate and trust litigation attorneys at Penrose Chun & Gorman LLP are here to help.
We provide trustworthy counsel and skillful representation to trustees, personal representatives, administrators, conservators, beneficiaries and other parties in all types of estate and trust disputes.
Frequent causes of conflicts involving estates and trusts
When property is contained in a trust or estate, there can be tension between the various stakeholders about how assets are handled and allocated. Common causes of disputes include:
- Will and Trust contests — Probate is the process of validating a will so an executor can carry out the testator’s instructions. Trust Administration is the process of administering and distributing a revocable living trust after the death of the settlor or trustor. Unfortunately, the process is not always smooth. A will or trust might be vague about which heirs receive particular assets. In other cases, key properties might be omitted, a situation sometimes referred to as partial intestacy, because the will or trust does not cover the entire estate. Would-be beneficiaries might also question the validity of the will, trust, or a trust amendment, charging undue influence or coercion at its formation or revision, and even outright fraud.
- Creditor claims — Before any estate assets can be dispersed, the executor must settle claims against the estate along with tax obligations and other debts. Creditor claims are often questionable, especially when transaction records are imprecise.
- Asset management — Trustees and estate representatives have a fiduciary duty to manage assets for the benefit of the intended recipients. Failure to do so constitutes a breach of fiduciary duty, for which the trustee or estate representative can be held personally liable. Beneficiaries who suspect incompetence, misconduct, fraud, misappropriation, or embezzlement can bring actions against the trustee. The process usually begins with a demand for a formal accounting and can escalate to the removal of the trustee or estate representative and a suit to recover lost assets.
- Disbursements — A fiduciary is obligated to distribute assets according to the terms of the will or trust, but those terms frequently require interpretation and allow for discretion. Trust creators might also place conditions on asset performance or beneficiaries which must be met before a distribution occurs. Stakeholders often clash over the question of whether conditions warrant a disbursement.
- Fees — Executors and trustees are allowed to deduct reasonable fees for their services. When fees seem excessive, or questionable expenses are reported, beneficiaries can take action against the fiduciary.
Our firm has extensive experience on all sides of these issues, and can provide the robust representation you need to pursue an appropriate resolution. We also litigate appeals of probate court decisions.
How can you avoid litigation of an estate or trust?
The best way to avoid estate litigation is to have a well-crafted estate plan with clear, detailed and accurate documents. Our Santa Cruz trust and estate attorneys take meticulous care to get your documentation right, so beneficiaries are properly identified, assets are accurately catalogued, and terms and conditions are plainly stated. We make advanced estate planning as easy as possible to avert potential disputes over your intentions. We also encourage our clients to update estate plans regularly to account for changes in finances and relationships.
Contact an experienced trust and estate litigation attorney to schedule an appointment
Penrose Chun & Gorman LLP in Santa Cruz provides experienced representation for trust and estate disputes throughout California. To speak to a qualified attorney, please call 831-515-3344 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.