Trust and estate litigation, also referred to as fiduciary litigation, is litigation that involves issues arising from fiduciary matters. More specifically, the litigation may involve issues related to the administration of an estate or a trust; breaches of fiduciary duty by an executor, trustee, power of attorney, joint account holder, guardian or conservator; or contests and challenges to estate planning documents.
Often times, fiduciary cases involve several mixed claims. For instance, the executor of an estate may learn that prior to death the decedent suffered from dementia, and someone acting as the decedent’s agent under a power of attorney used that authority to financially exploit the decedent during his lifetime. In such an instance, the executor may file a case against the agent asserting a variety of claims including breach of fiduciary duty, conversion, fraud and undue influence.
Facts giving rise to fiduciary litigation frequently involve allegations of undue influence and lack of capacity. And many times, theories of undue influence and/or lack of capacity are the foundation upon which gifts, wills, trusts and beneficiary designations may be challenged.
As to fiduciary matters, we represent both beneficiaries and fiduciaries, and we also prosecute and defend claims. The law involved in fiduciary litigation is complex. It involves shifting burdens and several nuanced evidentiary hurdles. Our choice to focus our practice on fiduciary litigation and other closely related matters was deliberate, as we believe that our focus provides us with the tools necessary to creatively and zealously advocate for our clients within our concentrated fields.
We invite you to contact us to discuss your potential estate litigation matter in greater detail.
Contested Guardianships & Conservatorships
When there is a need for assistance with managing one’s care and/or finances, the law provides a mechanism whereby a guardian and/or conservator can be appointed to serve in these roles.
A guardian is an agent who is appointed by the court to make decisions concerning a person’s well-being. For instance, a guardian may make decisions concerning living arrangements such as: is there a need for 24-hour nursing care in a facility or can someone properly be cared for within the home of a family member. A conservator is an agent appointed by the court to manage finances and property. The authority of the guardian and conservator is defined by the specific order of appointment, which often times includes all of the power and duties established by the Code of Virginia.
In most cases, a Petition for Guardianship and Conservatorship is filed by a family member, but the Code of Virginia allows such a Petition to be filed by anyone. The Code requires the Petition to contain specified information and further requires that the subject of the Petition – the Respondent – be personally served and advised of certain rights. The Code of Virginia also requires that interested persons (spouse, adult children, parents and adult siblings) be given notice of the Petition and ultimate hearing date.
In many instances, the Petition is uncontested and a guardian and/or conservator can be appointed very quickly without the need for a trial on the merits. When the Petition is contested, there may be a variety of different reasons for the opposition. For example, the Respondent may oppose the Petition because the Respondent believes that no assistance is needed for the management of his care or finances. Sometimes the Petition is opposed because the Respondent already has documents in place to provide the Respondent with any assistance that may be needed for the management of his care and finances. The Petition may also be opposed based upon an objection to the proposed guardian or conservator.
As to guardianship matters, we represent Petitioners, Respondents and interested parties. If you are involved in a guardianship matter, or believe that a guardianship or conservatorship may be needed we would welcome the opportunity to speak with you about your specific matter in greater detail.
We handle a range of matters involving business disputes in closely held companies. The issues can be wide and varying, but include rightful ownership issues, shareholder derivative lawsuits, dissolution actions, dissociation actions, and embezzlement claims.
The law related to business disputes is well settled, but if not handled correctly procedural issues can arise which could prematurely short-circuit the litigation process. In addition, business disputes often times become more complex when the corporate documents and records are ambiguous or inconsistent.
Notably, we have found that resolution of business disputes short of trial can frequently afford the parties with an opportunity to resolve their disputes globally. For instance, while a trial on the merits may only serve to dissolve a service oriented company, a negotiated resolution may allow for the owners to part ways, split the company’s client base and execute corresponding non-compete agreements. Creative resolutions can prove to be very beneficial in the context of business disputes and we strive to look for and advise our clients on all such opportunities when appropriate.
If you are involved in a business related dispute involving a closely held company, we invite you to contact us to discuss your dispute in greater detail.
Beneficiary Designation Disputes
Do you know who the beneficiary of your life insurance, 401K or Thrift Savings Plan is? Good. But not everyone can recall who they designated 20 years ago, and often times that precise issue must be litigated to be resolved.
Many people forget to update their beneficiary designations to remove an ex-spouse or to designate a new spouse. In some instances, rather than forgetting to update a designation, a designation may be updated in contravention of a property settlement agreement that requires insurance to be maintained for a child or ex-spouse. These types of actions and omissions often leads to litigation between the decedent’s estate and an ex-spouse or intended beneficiary. Many times when such disputes arise, the companies maintaining the proceeds will interplead, or pay over, the funds to a court of competent jurisdiction and file a lawsuit which asks the Court to determine the correct beneficiary.
The law in this area is robust and varies widely based upon the type of benefit or policy, and the interplay between state law and federal law. We have extensively litigated these issues in state and federal courts all the way to the United States Supreme Court. Should you find yourself in such a dispute, we would welcome the opportunity to speak with you. Based upon our experience in this area of the law, we are confident that we have the expertise to guide you through your particular dispute.