Trust & Estate Ligation Services
The field of estate planning has become more complex, and the number of people looking to employ sophisticated estate planning techniques is ever-increasing. Unfortunately, this combination of growth and complexity in the field has seemingly also led to increased disputes. Navigating the often-complicated ground where trust and probate disputes play out requires more than just knowledge of the law. Our lawyers recognize that beyond the legal issues, these types of disputes often involve delicate family dynamics, competing family histories, and stark disagreements regarding the intentions of loved ones who have passed on.
What is Trust and Estate Litigation?
Trust and Estate Litigation encompasses legal disputes and conflicts that arise in the administration and distribution of trusts and estates, typically after an individual’s passing. This area of law addresses matters related to wills, trusts, guardianships, and probate proceedings. Trust and Estate Litigation may involve contests over the validity of wills or trusts, challenges to managing trusts or estates, disputes among beneficiaries, allegations of breach of fiduciary duty by trustees or personal representatives, and other issues about asset preservation and equitable distribution. Our experienced attorneys provide skilled representation in Trust and Estate Litigation matters, helping clients navigate complex legal challenges to protect their interests and ensure the proper execution of their loved ones’ final wishes.
At HCB, our attorneys combine their in-depth litigation and dispute resolution expertise with a commitment to personalized client service. We understand the gravity of these disputes and their impact on families and individuals.
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Common Types of Disputes Involving Trusts and Estates
No matter the source of the dispute, we work diligently to protect our clients’ interests. Some of the more common disputes that can occur include the following:
- Disputes concerning the validity of wills or trust documents;
- The interpretation of provisions within these documents;
- Disputes among beneficiaries regarding entitlement to distributions or their amounts;
- Disagreements as to who should serve as a personal representative or successor trustee;
- Challenges to the actions or decisions made by successor trustees or personal representatives;
- Allegations that a testator or trust grantor was without adequate mental capacity when the instrument was executed;
- Allegations of undue influence, duress, or fraud when a will or trust was executed;
- Allegations that the testator or trust grantor made mistakes in setting forth his or herintentions;
- Claims of creditors against the estate or trust;
- Claims that certain assets should have been included within a probate or trust estate but were not; and
- Disagreements regarding the management, investment, or distribution of trust or estate assets.
The resolution of these matters often requires legal intervention, and interested parties should seek guidance from legal professionals experienced in Missouri’s trust and probate laws. At HCB, we are here to help.
At Haden, Cowherd & Bullock, we handle many of our cases on an hourly fee basis, reflecting the time and expertise invested by our attorneys. However, we understand that each client’s circumstances and needs are unique, and circumstances can arise where it is challenging to pay hourly attorney’s fees on top of other obligations. As such, we are open to considering contingent fee arrangements for certain cases, where we get paid only upon obtaining a recovery for you. Our primary aim is to provide exceptional legal representation in a manner that is financially feasible for our clients. Please consult our team to discuss the most suitable fee structure for your case.
Fiduciary Duties of a Trustee or Personal Representative in Missouri
At Haden, Cowherd, & Bullock, we understand the pressure and responsibility of being appointed trustee or personal representative. In Missouri, as in many jurisdictions, these roles come with a set of fiduciary duties that are legally binding and are owed to the beneficiaries of a trust or estate. We are committed to ensuring that individuals understand and uphold these duties while advocating for beneficiaries when these duties are in question.
Fiduciary Duties of a Trustee or Personal Representative
- Duty of Loyalty: The trustee or personal representative must always act in the best interest of the beneficiaries and must not engage in transactions that could result in a conflict of interest or personal gain.
- Duty of Care: Individuals in these roles must manage the trust or estate assets with the same level of care, skill, and diligence that a reasonably prudent person would use in a similar position.
- Duty to Inform and Report: Beneficiaries have a right to be informed about the trust or estate’s administration. The trustee or personal representative must typically provide accurate and timely information and regular accountings to the beneficiaries.
- Duty to Segregate Assets: The trust or estate’s assets must be kept separate from the trustee’s or representative’s assets. Co-mingling of funds or assets is strictly prohibited.
- Duty of Impartiality: The trustee or personal representative must act fairly and impartially, ensuring that no beneficiary is unfairly favored over another.
- Duty to Preserve and Protect Assets: The trustee or personal representative is responsible for ensuring the trust or estate assets are protected and invested wisely, avoiding undue risks.
- Duty to Avoid Conflicts: Trustees and personal representatives should avoid situations where their interests could potentially conflict with the best interests of the beneficiaries.
Bearing these fiduciary duties is a significant responsibility with potential legal ramifications if breached. At HCB, we are here to support trustees and personal representatives in meeting these obligations and represent beneficiaries when fulfilling these duties is in question.
Whether you are stepping into the role of a trustee personal representative or beneficiary seeking clarity on your rights, Haden, Cowherd & Bullock are here to guide and assist. Please get in touch with our expert team for trusted advice and representation.
Undue Influence in the Creation of a Will or Trust
In Missouri, as in many jurisdictions, undue influence is a legal concept that addresses situations where an individual is manipulated or coerced into making decisions that they would not have made if left to their own free will, particularly when creating a will or trust. At Haden, Cowherd & Bullock, we recognize the complexities surrounding undue influence claims and work diligently to safeguard the genuine intentions of individuals.
Situations Which May Indicate Undue Influence:
- Relationships of Dependence: One of the most common scenarios is when the testator or settlor (the person making the will or trust) is dependent on another individual for care or financial support. In these situations, there may be an opportunity for the caregiver or support provider to exert undue influence
- Isolation from Family and Friends: Undue influence may arise when a person is isolated from their loved ones, making them more susceptible to manipulation by someone seeking to benefit from their estate.
- Mental or Physical Vulnerability: Individuals with cognitive impairments, deteriorating health, or those under heavy medication might be more easily influenced. Their weakened state can be exploited by those looking to exert control over their decisions.
- Sudden Changes to a Will or Trust: If a will or trust is suddenly and drastically altered, especially in favor of a new or unexpected beneficiary, this can raise suspicions of undue influence.
- Disproportional Benefits: If one beneficiary receives a substantially larger portion of the estate without a clear rationale, it may be a sign that undue influence was at play.
- Over-involvement in Estate Planning: If a particular individual becomes overly involved in the process of drafting or modifying a will or trust, it could be an indication of potential undue influence. This is especially true if that individual stands to benefit significantly from the changes.
- Secrecy or Haste: If a will or trust is created secretly or hurriedly, without the usual careful consideration or without consulting with trusted family members or advisors, it might suggest undue influence.
It’s important to understand that the mere presence of one or more of these factors does not conclusively prove undue influence. However, they can be red flags warranting further investigation.
If you believe that you or a loved one’s will or trust may have been affected by undue influence, or if you’re facing allegations of exerting undue influence, contact Haden, Cowherd, & Bullock. Our experienced attorneys can provide guidance, support, and legal representation to ensure that justice prevails and the genuine wishes of individuals are upheld.
Disagreements Between a Trustee or Personal Representative and a Beneficiary
Navigating the complexities of trusts and estates often requires careful coordination between multiple parties. Certainly, tensions can arise between a trustee or personal representative and the beneficiaries. Disagreements are not uncommon, and understanding the potential areas of contention can lead to more informed decisions and smoother estate or trust administration.
Common Areas of Disagreement:
- Distribution of Assets: One of the most prevalent areas of contention revolves around the distribution of assets. Beneficiaries might disagree with the timing, manner, or amounts distributed by the trustee or personal representative.
- Management of Assets: Beneficiaries might take issue with how a trustee manages trust assets, especially if they believe the assets are being mismanaged, invested poorly, or not being used in their best interest.
- Accounting and Reporting: A trustee or personal representative is generally required to provide regular accountings. Disputes can arise over the frequency, detail, or accuracy of these reports.
- Compensation: Beneficiaries may contest the fees or compensation taken by a trustee or personal representative, deeming them excessive or unwarranted.
- Interpretation of Will or Trust Terms: Ambiguities or perceived ambiguities in the terms of a will or trust can lead to disagreements over interpretation. A beneficiary might believe that the trustee or personal representative is not acting in accordance with the deceased’s true intentions.
- Communication Issues: A lack of clear communication or perceived secrecy can result in misunderstandings or mistrust between beneficiaries and trustees or personal representatives.
- Conflicts of Interest: Allegations that the trustee or personal representative is acting in their own best interest rather than those of the beneficiaries or the estate can lead to significant disputes.
- Delay in Administration: Beneficiaries may become frustrated with delays in the administration of the trust or estate, especially if they perceive the trustee or personal representative as being inefficient or procrastinating.