Carefully constructed trusts allow individuals, families, and others to protect their assets for their intended purposes and beneficiaries. Unfortunately, even those most carefully planned estates cannot anticipate every possible challenge to the trust that may arise. As such, trust litigation can happen in any number of circumstances.

Trust disputes are complicated by nature. When a trust contest arises, an experienced trust litigation lawyer can help sort through the issues, from the validity of the trust’s creation to whether the proper beneficiaries were included, or whether the trustee has breached their duty to the beneficiaries. New Yorkers living in Albany and the Capital Region as well as the greater New York metropolitan area are well advised to contact Pierro, Connor & Strauss for legal guidance in the event of a potential or ongoing trust dispute.

How a trust contest can arise

A trust is an estate planning tool that creates a division between legal ownership and the right to control certain property. Trust creation must meet state legal requirements, including the grantor being of sound mind, clearly-defined beneficiaries and be executed with the proper formalities. When there is an actual or an alleged flaw in one of these requirements, the dispute may land in court.

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A trust litigation lawyer should be retained in any of the following situations:

1. Trust created without meeting the legal requirements

A trust needs to be created knowingly and voluntarily. There may be grounds to challenge the creation of the trust if the grantor was not of sound mind, or because the document was forged.

2. Proving that the grantor lacked the mental capacity to execute the trust

This requires evidence that the grantor lacked the understanding of:

  • The nature, extent, or value of their property
  • Their relationship to those affected by the trust
  • The type of trust to be created or how it was established

3. The trust may also be invalidated if the creator was coerced by undue influence.

This occurs when a beneficiary abuses a position of trust to override the trust maker’s free will. A contestant has the burden of proving that there was undue influence sufficient to interfere with the grantor’s decision-making, and that the trust would not have been created if not for the undue influence.

4. Trust was not administered properly

A trustee must follow the directions of the trust from the time the assets are moved to the trust until they are all distributed. However, the trust instructions often call for the trustee to use discretion in when and to whom to distribute proceeds and how to invest the principal. Other duties include informing beneficiaries of the trust, determining their interest, and  providing information to them. If a trustee violates the terms of the trust or their fiduciary duties, a beneficiary may have a valid claim.

Trust contests often delve into complex waters. If you are a trustee or a beneficiary involved in a trust that may be headed for a dispute, consider speaking with an estate litigation lawyer who is also well-versed in trust disputes.

Trust dispute resolution

Trust litigation can involve a substantial investment of time and money, which can ultimately devalue the assets to the beneficiaries. What’s more, is that these types of contests often arise out of an emotionally charged family dynamic. Regardless, litigation often proves the only way for parties to resolve the issues. In other cases, the parties may be agreeable to alternative dispute resolution.

Mediation is a popular tool used by litigators to avoid court and expedite a settlement agreed to by both parties. It is a voluntary process where parties to the legal dispute select a neutral mediator to facilitate settlement negotiations. In addition to economic efficient, the option also provides confidentiality. While the process itself is voluntary, if the parties reach a settlement, the settlement agreement will become a binding contract enforceable by the court.

Every situation is unique, both in the details of the trust and the priorities of the parties involved. The experienced litigators of Pierro, Connor & Strauss will take all considerations under advisement and offer honest, sound advice on how to proceed.

Speak with a trust litigation attorney

Pierro, Connor & Strauss, LLC regularly represents both trustees and beneficiaries in disputes involving trusts, including claims of 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 New York’s estate planning and trust laws and the Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act.

Your trust litigation issues deserve a personalized solution. Call today to schedule a no-obligation, confidential consultation. For related questions arising under a will contest, ask to speak with probate lawyer for further assistance.

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