Trust and Estate Litigation

Client Challenges and Opportunities

When a person creates an estate plan, there is often an assumption that his or her estate will be administered exactly as intended and without dispute. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.  Diminished capacity, blended families, sibling rivalries, unfamiliarity with will and trust formalities as between different states, and the vast amount of wealth in trusts today all contribute to increased trust and estate litigation. Even before the primary wealth-holder passes, family members sometimes initiate pre-death tactics, such as filing guardianship or conservatorship actions.

Snell & Wilmer has an experienced, multijurisdictional team capable of representing clients in all types of trust and estate controversies. We understand trust and estate litigation is different than other forms of litigation, such as commercial litigation. Our team includes litigation attorneys who focus on trust and estate litigation, as well as Private Client Services attorneys. Our trust and estate litigation attorneys have extensive trial experience in trust and estate controversies throughout the United States. Our Private Client Services attorneys have a depth of experience in trust and estate administration, fiduciary standards, beneficiary rights, creditor rights, estate planning, and state and federal taxation of trusts, estates and individuals.

Trusts and estates frequently hold illiquid business interests and other unique assets. As a result, trust and estate litigation can involve a wide range of legal issues. As a full service law firm, Snell & Wilmer has the depth of knowledge to build the right team to suit any matter, including attorneys who focus on real estate, finance, tax, corporate and securities, governmental regulations, blockchain and digital currency, and intellectual property.

Clients We Serve

Our clients include corporate fiduciaries, individual fiduciaries, individual heirs and beneficiaries, charitable heirs and beneficiaries, estate creditors, estate debtors, guardians and conservators in a broad array of matters including the following:

  • Claims of breach of fiduciary duty
  • Claims of vulnerable adult abuse
  • Claims of financial exploitation
  • Claims of undue influence
  • Claims of lack of testamentary capacity
  • Trustee-Beneficiary disputes
  • Personal Representative/Executor-Beneficiary disputes
  • Will contests
  • Trust contests
  • Enforcement of “no contest” clauses
  • Interpretation of tax allocation clauses
  • Conservatorship disputes
  • Guardianship disputes
  • Secured creditor claims
  • Unsecured creditor claims
  • Defense of debtors against estate claims
  • Trust administration
  • Estate administration
  • Pre-litigation planning

Why Clients Select Us

Client-Focused: We have a thorough understanding of trust and estate disputes, including how and why they emerge and strategies to defuse and avoid them. We strive to help our clients find practical and effective solutions to trust and estate controversies while avoiding unnecessary conflict and expense when possible.

Efficient: Some law firms only represent clients in trust and estate matters that are uncontested. Other law firms only represent clients in trust and estate matters when litigation is existing or imminent. However, we do both. We cost-effectively represent our clients in matters ranging from uncontested administrations to complex, multi-state litigation. We staff matters based upon type and complexity; and we remain flexible and attentive, so when an uncontested matter transitions to a contested matter, or vice versa, we efficiently adjust our staffing and continue the representation without disruption.

Multijurisdictional Footprint: Our trust and estate litigation attorneys have trial experience and practice in state and federal courts across the country. Our Private Client Services attorneys are also experienced in trust and estate administration in multiple jurisdictions, as well as the taxation of trusts, estates and individuals. We have locations throughout the Western United States, and in Washington, D.C. and Mexico. For corporate fiduciaries, we are able to provide coherent legal advice across multiple jurisdictions and better anticipate developing trends. 

Dedicated and Involved: Our attorneys are active lecturers and writers, appearing in the local and national press, sharing their knowledge in legal seminars, participating in the American Bar Association’s Probate and Fiduciary Litigation Committee and the Probate and Trust sections of individual state bar associations. Our trust & estate litigation attorneys have also been nationally recognized by Best Lawyers in America, Martindale-Hubbell and Super Lawyers.

Representative Matters

Following are several examples from clients we currently represent or have represented:

  • Adult children in challenging step-father’s attempt to take control of their rightful inheritance.
  • Pre-judgement relief on behalf of Personal Representative to freeze millions of dollars in cash and real estate held by a former caregiver in connection with vulnerable adult dispute.
  • Decedent’s daughter against claims of financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult brought by another child of decedent.
  • Successor Trustee of decedent’s trust in the enforcement of a “no contest” clause where a trust beneficiary unsuccessfully alleged the trust was invalid due to decedent’s lack of capacity at the time of execution.
  • Children of surviving spouse (from her first marriage) to compel the Successor Trustee of second husband’s trust to fund a $3 million marital trust for surviving spouse, as second husband instructed, and to honor surviving spouse’s exercise of her testamentary power of appointment in favor of her children (surviving spouse died two years after second husband).
  • Personal injury settlement for surviving spouse against estate of deceased husband when the deceased husband’s children from a prior marriage sought to disinherit the surviving spouse.
  • Trustee in negotiations with adverse beneficiaries to obtain an uncontested court order approving the corporate trustee’s resignation and replacement and avoiding litigation.
  • Trustee in negotiations with adverse beneficiaries to reform trust by non-judicial settlement and successfully resolve breach of duty claims.
  • Children of decedent in their capacity as debtors of deceased father’s estate against claims alleged by other estate beneficiaries.
  • Children from first marriage against vulnerable adult abuse claims brought by deceased father’s second wife as a tactic to frustrate the deceased father’s lifetime gifts of family farmland to his children and to substantiate community property claims to farming income.
  • Successor trustees in probate court proceedings to recover trust assets from estate of predecessor trustee and his spouse.
  • Trust beneficiary and corporate director in various disputes between family members over management of a trust-owned family business, including multiple proceedings in probate court for removal of trustee, immediate appointment of interim trustee and surcharge, and civil action to compel access to corporate records and for appointment of a provisional director.
  • Trust beneficiary in probate court proceedings for removal of trustee and trust protector and related claims based on conflicts of interest and retaliation against beneficiary for asserting right to obtain accounting and other information.
  • Adult dependent child in will contest brought by step siblings, and related guardianship proceedings for minor sibling.
  • Successor Trustee facing a petition for removal and surcharge filed by opposing siblings in a complicated trust administration involving more than 25 income properties.
  • Remainder beneficiary of marital trust established by beneficiary’s father for the benefit of his second wife, obtaining and challenging accountings and allocation of expenses to income and principal.

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