When a trust is set up, it’s done for a number of good reasons: it helps avoid probate (and thereby protects privacy), minimizes taxes, manages and protects assets and helps ensure that beneficiaries get what the person who set up the trust intended that they receive. Unfortunately, whenever money or property is involved, the best-laid plans can go astray and turn into a war between the beneficiaries and the trustee—often siblings.
Whether you are a beneficiary who feels the trustee is guilty of abuse of power or a trustee accused of breach of fiduciary duty, you need an attorney with the experience, skill and willingness to go the distance to ensure that your best interests are protected and your good name defended. Clients throughout the San Diego area turn to Keehn Estate and Elder Law for help with trust litigation because we are:
- Tough-minded, trial-tested and results-oriented: Years of experience in federal and state courts
- Responsive: Count on us to be there to answer your questions and respond to your needs quickly and efficiently
- Approachable: There is no issue too small and no concern too large for us to address. We help you feel comfortable with your decisions by explaining the process clearly and thoroughly
Understanding California trust law
In order to understand trust litigation, it is important to first know what a trust is. Under California probate law, elements of a trust include:
- Trust intent: California Probate Code Section 15201 states that “A trust is created only if the settlor properly manifests an intention to create a trust.” The settlor is the person who creates the trust
- Trust property: According to Probate Code Section 15202, there must be “trust property” in order to create a trust. Property means anything subject to ownership, whether real or personal property
- Trust purpose: As long as the purpose of the trust is not illegal or against public policy, the trust can be for any purpose, according to California Probate Code Section 15203
- Trust beneficiary: Except for a charitable trust, California Probate Code Section 1520 states that the trust instrument must provide for either:
- “A beneficiary or class of beneficiary that is ascertainable with reasonable certainty or that is sufficiently described so it can be determined that some person meets the description or is within the class”
- “A grant of a power to the trustee or some other person to select the beneficiaries based on a standard or in the discretion of the trustee or other person”
How our Carlsbad trust litigation services can benefit you
Either a trustee or a beneficiary can file a lawsuit over a trust dispute. Occasionally a trust has an “alternative dispute resolution” (ADR) clause, which requires the parties to solve disputes without going to court. Unfortunately, even when the clause exists, it is not always enforceable. Typically, if either party thinks it’s worth fighting over, it generally goes to litigation.
As a law firm dedicated to estate and elder law, Keehn Estate and Elder Law brings extensive experience and a track record of success in helping our clients in areas including:
- Disputes between beneficiaries and trustees: Whether because of poor communication, trustee compensation, or investment strategies and distribution of funds, disputes between trustee and beneficiary are, sadly, all too common. We work to resolve disputes in our client’s favor through solid, diligent representation.
- Breach of fiduciary duty: A trustee is obligated to three elements of managing a trust: a duty of loyalty, a duty of care and the duty of full disclosure. Failure to meet any one of these can result in charges of breach of fiduciary duty. We represent beneficiaries who have been subjected to wrongful acts on the part of their trustee and trustees who have been accused of breach of fiduciary duty.
- Recovery of trustee and attorney’s fees: This can be complicated, but often, a trustee who has prevailed in a litigation can recover fees through the trust. In addition, a trustee can recover fees through the trust for attorney fees incurred in the administration of the trustee’s fiduciary duties.
- Trustee misappropriation: A trustee is required by law to act in the best interest of the beneficiary. Misappropriation occurs when that is not the case—most often, when the trustee uses trust funds for their own benefit. Commingling of trust with personal funds, conflicts of interest and just plain mismanagement can all lead to trustee misappropriation.
- Trust accounting: Managing a trust estate means supplying an account for all trust actions taken by the trustee. When this doesn’t happen, or when there is sloppy accounting, there is reason for beneficiaries to be worried. Common trust accounting issues run from failure to adhere to the terms of the trust to using trust funds to making ill-advised investment decisions, or failing to invest at all.
Schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case
Deciding to litigate is never an easy decision, but it may be the right one for you. To learn more about how our trust litigation attorneys can help you, please contact our office online or call us at (760) 249-7776 to schedule a consultation.