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Estate and Trust Disputes - What You Should Know

Wills and Trusts Construction

On occasion, a will or trust will contain ambiguities regarding the distribution and division of assets, the identity and nature of beneficiaries and tax issues. If the interested parties do not contest the document outright, a construction proceeding may take place. In this instance, interested parties may ask the court for its interpretation and mediation of the ambiguous language.

The Law Office of David A. Esquibias can assess the trust document or the will and determine whether the ambiguities can favor the client's interests. We can then present these determinations in court. The Law Office of David A. Esquibias represents beneficiaries attempting to clarify a confusing will or trust document as well as fiduciaries endeavoring to administer the disputed estate.

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Trust Reformation

On occasion, a trust specifically designed to provide tax benefits may fail to qualify for such favorable treatment. In these instances, the trust may be reformed so that it will provide tax benefits. The Law Office of David A. Esquibias can present trust reformation cases in court and before the IRS. If you need help with an estate litigation matter, please contact us at 805-267-1141, or send an immediate e-mail inquiy.

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Protection of Beneficiary Rights

The Law Office of David A. Esquibias is a firm that understands the pain and frustration of being denied the inheritance you rightfully deserve. It is important to remember that beneficiaries do have legal rights and protections. Our highly experienced legal team can help ensure that your rights are not violated during the estate administration process.

We can provide legal advice and assistance with any estate litigation scenario from relatively common situations like fiduciary negligence or a will or trust contest to more complicated circumstances like a loved one dying without a will or trust. We can even help you enforce promises of future assets that were to have been given to you by your loved ones before they died or became incompetent. The Law Office of David A. Esquibias is committed to ensuring that beneficiaries receive the legacy that their loved ones intended for them.

If you suspect that an estate's assets have been handled incorrectly, unfairly or illegally or have not received the inheritance that you believe you deserve, please contact us at 805-267-1141, or send an immediate e-mail inquiry.

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Breach of Fiduciary Duty

A fiduciary is a person that assumes a special relationship of trust, confidence and responsibility for obligations to others. Executors, administrators and trustees are examples of those who have a fiduciary responsibility to beneficiaries. Fiduciaries are charged with carrying out the asset distribution set forth in a will or trust. They are not allowed to benefit from the estate/trust's assets to the detriment of the beneficiaries they are entrusted to protect. Fiduciaries should also be knowledgeable about and capable of whatever financial transactions are necessary to carry out the proper allocation of assets (in the case of trustees, they should also have the financial ability to reimburse the Trust in the event that they make serious financial mistakes).

Beneficiaries of an estate can sometimes object to the actions of the fiduciary and initiate legal action against him or her. Fiduciaries that have acted inappropriately in the administration of an estate can face a breach of fiduciary duty suit which can result in the fiduciary having to provide comprehensive accounting information regarding the estate's or trust's assets, the fiduciary's removal and even criminal prosecution.

Grounds for a breach of fiduciary duty suit include misconduct such as:

  • Removal of property from an estate without approval.
  • Transfer of assets from the estate to the fiduciary during the administration process (i.e. a fiduciary selling himself/herself estate property); also called self-dealing.
  • Financial negligence in the handling of the estate's assets during the administration process including failure to properly invest and account for assets.
  • Failure to conclude the estate administration process in a timely manner. Failure to provide necessary information to beneficiaries and other interested parties.
  • Failure to correctly execute the instructions left in the will/trust agreement.
  • Lack of cooperation between co-fiduciaries that severely hampers the administration of an estate.

When the fiduciary's negligence or fraud results in a financial loss to an estate or trust, a surcharge may be imposed. In these cases the court may fine or surcharge the fiduciary for breach of duty and direct the fiduciary to personally make financial reparations to the estate, trust or the beneficiaries.

The Law Office of David A. Esquibias is a firm that understands the difficulties facing parties involved in estate litigation proceedings. Our legal team has extensive litigation experience successfully representing clients disputing the administration of trusts or estates and prosecuting breach of fiduciary obligation actions. We understand the frustration that can occur when an estate's assets are abused by fiduciaries or when a beneficiary is denied the inheritance he or she rightfully deserves. We litigate cases of this nature in all of the Superior Courts in Ventura and Los Angeles Counties.

If you suspect that an estate's assets have been handled incorrectly, unfairly or illegally or have not received the inheritance that you believe you deserve, please contact us at 805-267-1141, or send an immediate e-mail inquiry.

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Will and Trust Contests

There are a number of ways that a will or trust can be contested. Please see the list below for details, and contact us if you have any immediate questions or concerns.

A will or trust can be contested on the following grounds:

  • The will or trust was not properly executed - Proper execution of a will or trust requires that the will or trust be signed by the testator (the person making out the will or trust) and witnessed by at least two people, who also sign the will or trust at the end. A will or trust can be contested on the grounds that it was not properly drafted, signed, or witnessed in accordance with statutory legal requirements. A will or trust can also be contested on the grounds that there are ambiguities in the document. When a will or trust is executed under the supervision of an attorney, there is a presumption that it was properly executed.
  • The testator was not mentally competent to make a will or trust - Competency to make a will or trust means that the testator understood the nature and extent of his assets and knew the parties to whom the assets would be distributed. A will or trust may be declared void if it can be proved that the testator was senile, delusional or of unsound mind when the will or trust was created. Incompetence may be proven by medical records or irrational conduct of the testator (with the testimony of those who observed him/her at the time the will or trust was executed).
  • The will or trust was the product of fraud or undue influence - Undue influence occurs when the testator is compelled or coerced to execute the will or trust as a result of improper pressure exerted upon him/her. Fraud occurs when a false statement is knowingly made causing the testator to sign a will or trust in a different manner than he/she would have if the statement had not been made.
  • A second will or trust is discovered - If proven valid, the newer will or trust would replace the older will or trust.
  • Miscellaneous reasons - There are other circumstances under which a will or trust can be contested. These include suspicions of forgery and the existence of pre-existing contracts relating to asset distribution.

It is important to note that there are time constraints and procedural deadlines after which you may not be able to contest a will or trust. Unlike the statute of limitations of several years in most legal matters, estate litigation must be initiated in a few months. Quick probate deadlines are set to allow an estate's bills to be paid and assets to be distributed as rapidly as possible. After probate is completed, it is normally not possible to initiate legal action. Therefore, it is imperative to prompt legal advice from attorneys who are both highly experienced and knowledgeable about all facets of estate litigation.

The Law Office of David A. Esquibias is a firm that has litigated estate cases and will or trust contests in all of the Superior Courts in the Los Angeles and Ventura area.

If you suspect that your loved one's will or trust is not legally valid, please contact us at 805-267-1141, or send an immediate e-mail inquiry.

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