Estate & Trust Litigation

  • Overview

    Estate & Trust Litigation

    GRSM's Estate & Trust Litigation team is composed of experienced attorneys who focus their practices on disputes involving wills, trusts, guardianships and conservatorships, and elder law matters. Members of the team have represented a wide array of clients in some of the largest estate disputes throughout the country and have a long track record of trial victories and successful settlements. We counsel clients on all aspects of estate disputes, including investigating potential claims, evaluating the merits of bringing a claim, filing or defending a claim, and litigating a claim through trial or settlement. 

    Will Disputes 

    Our attorneys have extensive experience in representing clients in challenges to wills – and in defending executors against challenges to wills – on the grounds of undue influence, lack of testamentary capacity of the testator, fraud, and lack of compliance with proper will formalities. Moreover, we also regularly represent clients in will interpretation disputes, and motions for aid and direction. Our clients range from individuals to large charitable entities, and we have litigated will disputes involving estates ranging from six figures to over $50 million. 

    Trust Disputes

    We regularly represent trustees and beneficiaries in disputes involving trusts, including claims regarding breach of fiduciary duty, failure to inform and report to beneficiaries, violation of prudent investor acts, and trustee removal actions. We have deep experience litigating claims under the Uniform Trust Code, and the various modified versions adopted by different states, as well as litigating trust disputes in jurisdictions that have not adopted the Uniform Trust Code. Our clients range from large national and regional trust companies to individuals. 

    Guardianship and Conservatorship Disputes

    Our attorneys have litigated dozens of guardianship and conservatorship matters. As the nation’s population ages, guardianship and conservatorship disputes are becoming increasingly common, particularly because such disputes can at times serve as a precursor to a later will or trust dispute. We regularly counsel family and friends on the best strategic approach to such disputes, and also have extensive experience in asserting and defending against claims of abuse of authority under a power of attorney, in connection with guardianship and conservatorship proceedings. Moreover, we regularly represent guardians and conservators in seeking court approval for various estate planning actions. 

    Elder Law Disputes

    Members of our team frequently counsel families and friends in circumstances involving elder law disputes and the exploitation of elderly persons. We are frequently called on to represent clients in instances of elderly persons being pressured to change their estate planning documents or make gifts, exploitation of elderly persons, and parent-napping. 

    Our Team

    While many large, national firms rarely take cases to trial, we approach matters differently. Promoting the client’s best interests is always our first priority, and our team recognizes that this can frequently be best done through negotiating a successful settlement. However, we also know that some disputes cannot be effectively resolved through settlement and therefore, we prepare for and regularly try estate disputes throughout the country. Most of our team members have tried dozens of cases, including multi-day jury trials. 

    A number of our attorneys were mentored by or worked with the late Paul Cullum, who co-authored one of the leading treatises on estate litigation. Our accolades in the field of estate and trust litigation include recognition from leading industry publications such as Super Lawyers. Our team also maintains an active blog focusing on estate litigation, which can be accessed at: 

    Representative Matters

    • Prevailed on appeal before the Virginia Supreme Court, in a case that made new law, holding that a trust beneficiary may bring a two-part complaint to first obtain an initial ruling as to whether a no contest clause would apply to the proposed action.
    • Tried week-long case defending executor and trustee against claims of undue influence and lack of testamentary capacity relating to the execution of a will and trust 
    • Tried claim against trustee, on behalf of beneficiary, asserting claims of breach of fiduciary duty and violation of Uniform Trust Code’s inform and report duties 
    • Represented petitioner in two inter-related contested guardianship and conservatorship proceedings pending in separate jurisdictions 
    • Represented numerous individuals in contested guardianship and conservatorship actions, including those seeking the revocation of authority of agents under powers of attorney 
    • Represented trust companies and family members in the transfer of numerous guardianships and conservatorships to other states under the Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act 
    • Successfully represented beneficiaries in litigation involving lost wills (involving obtaining court approval to admit copies of the wills to probate) 
    • Represented numerous trust beneficiaries in suits against trustees for failure of trustees to inform and report to beneficiaries, failure to make required distributions, and failure to comply with the Uniform Prudent Investor Act 
    • Represented client contesting death-bed deed of conveyance 
    • Represented client contesting joint-titling of numerous bank accounts near death 
    • Tried real property partition claim brought by one beneficiary against the other beneficiary 
    • Represented numerous beneficiaries in claims to impeach wills on the basis of undue influence and lack of testamentary capacity 
    • Represented beneficiary in will interpretation dispute centering on ambiguous language relating to disposition of real property 
    • Defended executor against claim of breach of fiduciary duties for alleged misuse of estate assets 
    • Represented spouse in elective share litigation, and related claims involving family allowance and exempt property allowance 
    • Advised trustees regarding ambiguous terms in trust, and validity of death-bed attempts to disinherit beneficiaries through attempted written modifications to trust 
    • Represented numerous executors in dealing with estate creditors (including regarding insolvent estates) 
    • Represented named-beneficiary in obtaining insurance death benefits 
    • Represented numerous family members in “slayer statute” claims
    • Represented executors and beneficiaries in litigation relating to no-contest clauses
    • Tried to verdict a case involving the disputed creation of a life estate in real property
    • Represented conservator in claims for breach of premarital agreement and conversion relating to improper attempt to commingle funds when the ward lacked capacity to consent 
    • Represented healthcare facilities in guardianship and conservatorship petitions 
    • Represented numerous trustees and family members in actions seeking judicial modifications to trusts 
    • Represented numerous beneficiaries in litigation surrounding alleged accounts of convenience
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