Gordon & Rees’ Estate and Trust Litigation Team Wins Major Victory Before Virginia Supreme Court

March 2020

Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani recently scored a significant win before the Virginia Supreme Court in a ruling in a trust litigation matter that makes new law in Virginia.

Williamsburg partner William W. Sleeth III and associate Brett C. Herbert successfully represented the appellant in the case of Hunter v. Hunter (Record No. 190260) before the Virginia Supreme Court. In the Court’s unanimous ruling, it reversed the decision of the trial court that had applied a no contest clause to a party who brought a declaratory judgment action seeking an interpretation of a provision in a trust.

In ruling in favor of Gordon & Rees’ client, the Virginia Supreme Court, for the first time, expressly approved of an alternative-pleading model whereby a trust beneficiary may first seek a declaratory judgment as to whether a proposed claim would trigger a no contest clause, and obtain a ruling on that threshold question, before deciding whether to proceed with the prosecution of the claim.

The ruling is significantly helpful and important to beneficiaries of wills and trusts and their legal counsel, as now the legal community will have clear and definitive guidance that they may obtain a ruling as to whether a proposed course of action would trigger a no contest clause, without the risk of having to first take that action and the client risk potential disinheritance as a result.

Sleeth serves as chair of the firm’s Estate and Trust Litigation Team, and has represented clients in over 200 estate and trust disputes. Herbert and Sleeth maintain a legal blog dedicated to estate disputes and litigation, which can be accessed here.