PALUMBO LAW attorneys are compassionate, understanding, and experienced in litigating and resolving complex and multi-faceted trust, probate and estate disputes, which often may arise among family members, and involve personal and emotional factors. Whether our attorneys are assisting clients with disputes that may arise among co-trustees, beneficiaries and/or expected beneficiaries of smaller family trust estates or larger, multi-million dollar trust estates, our attorneys are committed to achieving our clients’ goals in the most efficient and effective manner possible. Even where a last will and testament (a “will”) or trust agreement initially is drafted in a manner that appears to be clear and final, disputes may arise for a variety of reasons, including disagreements over the entitlement to estate or trust assets, purchases and sales of assets of an estate or trust, alleged breaches of the fiduciary duties owed by administrators, executors and trustees, allegations that a settlor (or creator) of a trust or a decedent who created a will was unduly influenced into signing such estate planning documents and/or was not legally competent to do so, and arguments concerning the appropriate distribution of assets to an estate or trust’s heirs or beneficiaries.
A will is an estate-planning document, which is created by an individual in order to determine how his or her assets shall be distributed upon his or her death, and which may be challenged for a number of reasons after the person is deceased in probate court. A trust is a fiduciary arrangement, generally created by the settlor (or creator) of the trust under a written trust agreement, which appoints a specific trustee or trustees to hold assets or property “in trust” on behalf of beneficiaries and dictates how such trust assets should be managed and/or distributed. The most common types of trusts are living trusts, which are set up during the creator’s lifetime, and testamentary trusts, which are provided for in a will and tell the executor of the estate to create a testamentary trust and under what terms. A few advantages of a creating a trust are that it allows you to put conditions on how and when your assets are distributed during your lifetime or after you pass away, reduces estate and gift taxes, and allows you to distribute your assets to beneficiaries after your death, without the need for your loved ones to have to open an estate in the probate court. Notwithstanding how well a will or trust may be drafted, however, complicated questions and challenges often arise once the will or trust provisions are put into practice. Resolving the court battles that may transpire as a result are PALUMBO LAW attorneys’ forte.
Below is an example of a typical trust dispute:
John Doe and Jane Doe (the “Does”) were a married couple, who created a trust primarily to protect their assets in anticipation of future healthcare costs and to address any long-term healthcare needs. The Does had an experienced attorney draft a trust agreement for this purpose, appointing themselves as the initial co-trustees. The trust agreement appointed two of the Does’ three children as the successor co-trustees, in the event that the Does passed away or lacked the legal capacity at some future point in time to continue acting as co-trustees of their trust. In furtherance of this trust, the Does transferred all their real and personal property (valued at more than $2M) to the trust, including real estate located in multiple New England states. During their lifetime, the Does were the beneficiaries of the trust, with all three siblings becoming beneficiaries after the Does’ death.
Shortly thereafter, Jane Doe passed away. Due to his lack of mental capacity, John Doe also soon became unable to continue as the trustee of the trust. Under the original trust agreement’s language, the two siblings appointed as successor co-trustees would normally have taken over management of the trust. However, the third sibling argued that there was an amendment to the trust, which allegedly was executed by the Does at a time when the successor co-trustees claimed the Does lacked the legal capacity to understand what they were signing or the legal ramifications thereof, and in which amendment the third sibling claimed the Does had appointed him as the sole successor trustee of the trust. The third sibling also alleged that certain parcels of real estate had been conveyed to him out of the trust prior to Jane Doe’s death and John Doe’s incapacity. In response, the two siblings who were the successor co-trustees under the original trust agreement averred that the purported amendment to the trust and transfer of real estate were fraudulent.
PALUMBO LAW was retained by the two siblings who were appointed in the original trust agreement as the successor co-trustees of the trust, in order to confirm that the so-called trust amendment and conveyance of real estate were legally invalid and therefore void, and otherwise to protect our clients’ interests as the true successor co-trustees and as beneficiaries of the trust. Utilizing all the tools available to them in a hotly contested lawsuit, our attorneys were able to resolve this intricate and emotionally charged family dispute in a manner that was favorable to our clients.
Our experienced attorneys at PALUMBO LAW are willing and able to assist you with your trust or probate disputes as well. Please do not hesitate—call our office TODAY.