Trust, Estate, & Fiduciary Litigation
“All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family
is unhappy in its own way.” – Leo Tolstoy
Litigation concerning decedent’s estates can involve actions against trustees, personal representatives, and more. Sometimes the dispute arises prior to the death of the trustor (or testator), when there is suspicion that gifts or changes in the estate plan are the product of undue influence or an absence of mental capacity. Or, such claims can be made after the death of the person involved (typically the parent of the litigants, but not always). The litigation often involves questions of interpretation of estate planning documents.
Rob Epstein has substantial experience in handling trust, estate, and fiduciary litigation, including will and trust contests.The following are examples of trust, estate, and fiduciary litigation handled by Epstein Law Firm:
- A 56-year-old man acquired substantial cash and assets — including a Southern California vacation home — from a 73-year-old woman who was suffering from substantial physical and mental disabilities. When a local bank substituted as trustee for the woman, the bank hired the firm, which initiated a civil action for fraud, undue influence, and other claims. The firm obtained a court order requiring that the defendant stay away from the woman and have no contact with her, and obtained a settlement of the monetary claims.
- The Marin County Court appointed Rob Epstein to represent a 91-year-old man in a proceeding concerning a proposed substantial cash gift that resulted in a dispute between the man’s spouse and his children from a prior marriage.
- The firm currently is defending an undue influence/elder abuse action brought against a landscape gardener who is the partial beneficiary of a decedent’s estate; the decedent’s daughter filed the action.
- The firm currently is representing three former trustees in an action filed by the California Attorney General alleging breach of fiduciary duty and other claims related to a charitable foundation.
- The firm successfully defended a trustee against breach of fiduciary duty and surcharge claims brought by the sole beneficiary and obtained a court order approving the trustee’s accounting.
- The firm was contacted when a brother and sister were concerned that their third sibling planned to move their mother — who was suffering from dementia — from an assisted living facility to his home. The firm assisted in resolving the family crisis without litigation.
- The firm represented two brothers in litigation involving their other brothers and sister concerning the interpretation of their mother’s trust. The case required several appearances in Los Angeles County probate court where the action was pending. The firm successfully obtained the court’s order approving a settlement over the objection of one of the brothers.
- The firm represented a 90-year-old man in a dispute with his former domestic partner regarding the division of assets, and powers of attorney that she had obtained when he was hospitalized. The case resolved at mediation.
- Elderly parents were in litigation with their daughter concerning the initiation of an involuntary conservatorship action and the daughter’s use of trust assets over a several year period. The firm represented the court-appointed fiduciary. A settlement was achieved at mediation.
- The firm has represented the trustee of a spendthrift trust in litigation involving the sole beneficiary who has been the subject of criminal proceedings and a termination of parental rights action.
- A brother accused his sister of converting property from their late mother’s estate. The firm assisted the sister in obtaining a settlement and dismissal of the action pending against her.
- Three siblings contested their mother’s will, which provided a substantial benefit to a fourth sibling and a non-relative. The firm represented the defendants and successfully resolved the matter at mediation.
- A contest was filed against a will that benefited an in-home caregiver who had provided services to the decedent. The firm represented the personal representative of the estate. The case resolved at mediation.
- The firm defended a trustee against his brother’s claims of breach of fiduciary duty in connection with the administration of their mother’s estate. The case resulted in a settlement.
- The firm represented a sister in a breach of fiduciary action filed against her sister who served as trustee of their late mother’s trust. The parties resolved the case at a court mandatory settlement conference.
- The firm is representing the conservator in two continuing conservatorship matters in the Marin County Court.
- In defense of a claim that a trust was a product of undue influence, Rob represented the trustee in a case that involved more than 30 separate depositions of parties, attorneys, witnesses, and medical experts. The case ultimately was settled on the eve of trial.
- Rob participated in the defense of a San Francisco law firm that was accused of committing legal malpractice in its handling of the multi-million dollar estate of an elderly widow. Following discovery and summary judgment proceedings, the case was settled.
- After selling their East Bay apartment building, a mother and her daughter were the subject of a missing persons conservatorship proceeding that led to (1) a contract rescission action being filed against Rob’s clients, the buyers of the building; and (2) a title insurance dispute. After substantial discovery, including a deposition of one of the conservatees in Oregon, the parties reached a settlement agreement.
- In a court trial conducted in Marin County, Rob’s client successfully defended against the claim that he had procured his mother’s will by exercising undue influence. Rob also later defended a similar case in Marin and received a similar defense judgment after a court trial.
- In a malicious prosecution action filed against Rob’s clients by their former trustee and attorney, Rob’s clients were successful in obtaining a dismissal from the Court and an order for reimbursement of all attorney’s fees and costs that they had incurred.