The Probate Pro litigates trust disputes in probate court. A dispute involving any trust or aspect of a trust, whether it be the language of the trust, the actions of a trustee or beneficiary, or another facet of a trust, is referred to as a trust dispute or trust litigation.

As a trustee, you are responsible for a myriad of duties set forth by statute, case law and court rules, including notice, accounting, and communication. One of the most common forms of a trust dispute or litigation involves a trustee failing to follow the law and keeping trust beneficiaries informed.

Trust Litigation Timeline

  1. Petition or Complaint is Filed
    Within the trust litigation timeline, the trust dispute begins with the filing of a petition or a complaint usually in a probate court. It is this petition or complaint that sets forth the allegations and sets the framework for the entire case and the claims that will be asserted throughout the entire lawsuit.
  2. Service to Interested Parties
    Once the petition or complaint is filed, the complaint or petition must be served on the interested parties or defendants. It is this notice that allows the defendants or the other interested parties to participate in the litigation.
  3. Answer to Claims
    Once the lawsuit or petition has been served upon the interested parties, there is an opportunity of those parties to respond. Once the defendants are served with the summons and complaint or petition, they are subject to a time limit to file an answer stating their defenses to the claims, which includes any challenges to the court’s jurisdiction, and any counterclaims they wish to assert.
  4. Discovery
    When there is litigation involving a trust, the court rules provide for discovery. Discovery allows all of the interested parties that are involved to learn additional or sufficient information to litigate the claims and prepare for trial. Discovery allows a party to obtain evidence from the other by discovery devices such as interrogatories, requests for production of documents, requests for admissions, subpoenas and depositions.
  5. Alternate Dispute Resolution (A.D.R.)
    The court may order the parties into Alternative Dispute Resolution. Alternative Dispute Resolution for trust disputes and trust litigation can include a variety of forms to resolve the dispute short of trial. It could include mediation or a facilitative process, or case evaluation in which neutral attorneys evaluate the file.
  6. Motions
    It is important to note that motions, petitions, and other requests occur throughout the litigation process. There are often motions for summary disposition. A motion for summary disposition or dispositive motion is a motion requesting that the court order entirely dispose of all or part of the claims in favor of the moving party without need for further court proceedings. To dispose of a claim means to decide the claim in favor of one or another party, without a trial.
  7. Trial/Evidentiary Hearing
    Usually, lawsuits end in a settlement, with an empirical analysis finding that less than 2% of cases end with a trial. The steps outlined in this account align in preparation for the Trial or Evidentiary Hearing.

While every trust matter has its own narrative, and the timeline will change case by case, this outline should provide for you a general overview of the process of litigating trust disputes. If you are involved in trust litigation, or you have general questions about trusts, call us at (833) PROBATE or visit us at www.theprobatepro.com.