Trust & Estate Litigation
Trusts are one of the most widespread and useful estate planning tools. Unfortunately, major disputes can arise when a trust is administered, especially if there are multiple beneficiaries and substantial assets involved. Marin County trust litigation attorney Michael S. Biggs has assisted many Northern California residents with litigating these disputes. He has over a decade of courtroom experience and has the confidence and tenacity to confront any obstacle. He is also available to assist people who need a business law attorney or guidance in a public sector employment law or personal injury matter.
Mr. Biggs serves clients throughout Marin, Sonoma, Solano, and Contra Costa Counties from his main office in San Rafael, a staffed office in San Francisco, and a satellite office in Walnut Creek. He gains satisfaction from guiding clients through complex and unusual matters, and he takes pride in being able to foster relationships with a wide variety of people. In addition to maintaining strong communications with clients, colleagues, and the courts, Mr. Biggs takes a creative approach to solving problems through litigation. He is clear, concise, and to the point in using every tool at his disposal to further each client’s specific needs and goals.Vigorous Representation in Trust Litigation
A trust is a legal instrument that allows a party known as a trustee to hold legal title to property or other assets on behalf of another party or multiple parties, who are known as the beneficiaries of the trust. A person who designates property or assets as trust assets is known as the trust settlor. The initial trustee, who is usually the person who created the trust, eventually will pass on or become unable to administer the trust. When this happens, a successor trustee will take over the trust administration responsibilities. In some cases, the trust document will name a successor trustee, while in others a successor trustee will be appointed or designated by the beneficiaries
Some trusts are called living trusts or inter vivos trusts, which simply means that the trust was created while the settlor was still alive. Many people choose to create a trust in lieu of a will, since the process is more streamlined and provides a number of tax and other legal advantages. A settlor has broad leverage in determining how the trust assets will be administered during his or her lifetime or upon death. If the trust assets include a sum of money, for example, the trustee will invest the funds, and the beneficiaries can receive periodic payments from the proceeds of the investment. The trust instrument can also be drafted to require the trustee to transfer title to certain assets to beneficiaries upon the settlor’s death. Ultimately, there are many ways that a settlor can craft his or her trust to achieve a broad array of objectives. A trust litigation lawyer can guide Marin County residents through this process, devising a plan that is appropriate for their personal needs.
A successor trustee can be a person, corporation, bank, or other type of entity. Because of their role in overseeing assets and administering the trust, trustees have a fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries to act in their best interest and to carry out the mandate of the trust, regardless of their personal opinions about how it should be handled.
Although many successor trustees take their duties seriously and effectively administer the trust, others create problems because of their careless or self-serving actions.
When this happens, the beneficiaries can bring a breach of fiduciary duty claim against the successor trustee. While it is often difficult to identify a certain action that showed a lack of reasonable care and skill by the trustee, or the influence of ulterior motives, there are some common examples. These include the commingling of trust assets with the trustee’s personal funds, a conflict of interest between the trustee and the administration of the trust, or a situation in which the trustee takes advantage of his or her position by borrowing from the trust or making decisions aimed at providing the trustee with a personal profit. In some situations, when multiple trustees are involved, a trustee may fail to act to prevent a co-trustee from breaching a fiduciary duty. This creates joint liability for the breach among all of the co-trustees.
Since there are so many parties involved in a trust, conflicts may arise from disagreements about the way that the trust document should be interpreted and the way that the trust should be administered. If the trust involves vague or contradictory instructions, it can become even more complex. Contradictory terms arise when the settlor of the trust was not clear in how the trust assets should be administered. Some trusts may also include special types of terms, such as triggers or condition precedents. For example, the instrument may require that a beneficiary reach a certain age or achieve a specified milestone before being entitled to benefits from the trust.
Undue influence is a common basis for a dispute over a trust. It occurs when a party in a confidential relationship with the settlor takes advantage of the settlor’s vulnerability and pressures the settlor to act in a way that may be unfavorable to the settlor or contrary to his or her true intentions. To establish an undue influence claim, the plaintiff must show that the party exercising undue influence attempted to influence a vulnerable settlor and that the outcome of that influence was unfair.
Another typical basis for trust litigation, the misappropriation of trust assets, occurs when the trustee uses his or her authority over the trust assets to gain a personal benefit or to manipulate the administration of the trust to benefit someone other than the intended beneficiaries.
There are strict time windows within which a beneficiary must sue a trustee when he or she believes that a breach of fiduciary duty has occurred. This makes it imperative to take legal action promptly. If the beneficiary establishes that a breach happened, the beneficiary may be entitled to all of the benefits that should have been provided to him or her under the terms of the trust. The trustee may be required to pay compensation for the losses caused to any beneficiaries because of the breach and may be removed from serving as a trustee.Consult a Skilled Trust Litigation Attorney in Marin County
If you are anticipating a dispute over the administration of a trust, knowledgeable Marin County trust litigation lawyer Michael S. Biggs is ready to help. He has assisted trustees and beneficiaries with litigating complex matters regarding these instruments. Mr. Biggs understands that court proceedings are adversarial, and he can provide the combination of investigatory skill, tactical judgment, and strategic focus that you need to protect your interests. He serves clients throughout Marin, Sonoma, Solano, and Contra Costa Counties. Call us at 415-789-5823 or contact us online to set up a free consultation. Michael S. Biggs also can assist you if you need a personal injury attorney or assistance with a business law or public sector employment law matter.