The disposition of estates and trusts often results in complications and disputes requiring the discretion, experience, and accessibility that are the hallmarks of our dispute resolution team. Our clients include individuals, fiduciaries, and non-profit organizations where creative problem-solving and litigation skills are needed for effective representation and resolution. Clients value the breadth of our experience, our discretion, and our hands-on and accessible approach. Our experience includes challenges and/or disputes arising from the transfer of wealth, such as accountings, distribution, interpretation of documents, modification or reformation of estate planning instruments, will and trust contests, claims of fiduciary malfeasance and disputes over the use of a power of attorney. An important component of our practice is advising our clients on dispute avoidance, both in the planning process and throughout the administration of the estate.
Saul Ewing’s Trust & Estate Dispute Resolution team has extensive advocacy experience, and we seek creative and cost-effective solutions to the problems encountered through hands-on negotiation, trials, and alternative dispute resolution, including arbitration and mediation. Many of our attorneys have served as mediators and have successfully mediated numerous probate and trust disputes.
We handle a wide variety of issues, including:
- Trust and will contests, including claims of undue influence and lack of capacity
- Trustees’ administration
- Contested gifts and changes in the titling of assets
- Modification and reformation of trusts
- Trustees’ and executors’ improper exercise of fiduciary powers
- Disputes relating to fiduciary relationships, including claims of breach of fiduciary duty
- Actions challenging trustees as to the investment management of a trust portfolio
- Property characterization disputes
- Proceedings involving nonprofit organizations, charitable trusts, the doctrine of cy pres, and administrative deviation in the context of charitable gifts and nonprofit organizations
- Shareholder dispute issues in the context of estate- and trust-related matters for closely held and family businesses
- Heirship litigation
- Elder abuse or vulnerable adult exploitation
- Misuse of power of attorney or health care directive
- Guardianships and conservatorships
- Advice to fiduciaries with regard to complex administrations on topics ranging from compliance with the Probate Code, the Prudent Investor Rule, and the Uniform Principal and Income Act
Saul Ewing attorneys advised on these select estate and trust litigation representations:
Will and Trust Contests
- Spearheaded litigation in the New Jersey Supreme Court involving the admission of an unsigned copy of a will to probate.
- Successfully handled a will contest in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Monmouth County, that sought to set aside a new will changed in favor of our client’s sister.
- Advising on a will contest pending in the Queens County Surrogate’s Court that seeks to set aside a will and revocable trust agreements that removed our client as a beneficiary of her mother’s rather sizeable estate as the product of undue influence, after taking only a few depositions.
- Successfully defending an undue influence claim in a jury trial held in New York’s Kings County Surrogate’s Court over a will that favored the decedent’s longtime friend and neighbor.
- Negotiated a number of settlements in will and trust disputes before a formal filing was made.
- Successfully defended a will contest filed in the New Jersey Superior Court, Chancery Division, Probate Part brought against a second husband of the decedent.
- Achieved a preferential settlement in an undue influence action filed in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Somerset County, involving various transfers of real estate interests prior to the decedent’s death.
- Secured a portion of our client’s mother’s estate through filing an informal caveat with a Pennsylvania county register of wills department to prevent the probate of his mother’s will by his brother, who was suspected of procuring that will through undue influence. We secured a family settlement agreement whereby the client received a cash settlement for himself and his children.
Accounting and Other Actions Involving an Executor or Trustee
- Successfully defended an executor in a hotly contested accounting action in the New Jersey Superior Court after many months of discovery and a full hearing.
- After a full hearing in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Middlesex County, achieved a verdict in a matter surcharging the substitute administrator of the estate for failure to properly distribute assets of the estate to the decedent’s son.
- Achieved a quick settlement in an accounting action filed in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Ocean County, after many months of unsuccessful litigation by prior counsel.
- Successfully defended an executor in an action in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Bergen County, filed by the executor’s brothers alleging fraud and misappropriation of monies regarding their mother’s estate.
- Negotiated a settlement on behalf of the decedent’s spouse against co-trustees of a trust that was set up for her benefit, after alleging breach of fiduciary duty and failure to properly distribute assets.
- Successfully defended an agent under power of attorney in an action brought against him in the Philadelphia Orphans’ Court by a decedent’s sons claiming breach of fiduciary duties and seeking damages. The court sustained preliminary objections, eviscerating the sons’ claims.
- Successfully recovered money on behalf of the administrator of a decedent’s estate in Illinois relating to a compliant that our team filed against the defendant, an insurance producer who had befriended the decedent when he was in his 80s, for fraud, undue influence and breach of fiduciary duty.
Additional Estate and Trust Litigation Matters
- Obtained a judgment in the Superior Court of New Jersey involving the alleged forgery of a deed prior to the decedent’s death.
- Negotiated a settlement between beneficiaries of an estate pending in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Hudson County after alleging undue influence and fraud against a party who was instrumental in procuring a new will.
- Successfully probated a hand written codicil of the decedent after filing an action in the Superior Court of New Jersey.
- Instrumental in achieving a resolution of trust litigation in the New York County Surrogate’s Court.
- Successfully resolved litigation on behalf of two intertwined spousal estates in the orphans’ court division of a Pennsylvania county court of common pleas that involved alleged “silent partners”; issues regarding unpaid mortgages, the sale and management of 30+ commercial and residential rental properties; disposition of interests in multiple business entities; and interfamily litigation.
- Served as opposing counsel for a client whose assets were wrongfully frozen. We successfully pursued a judgment against his wife in drafting and filing a motion on an emergency basis in Maryland, appearing before the administrative judge and presenting an order that was signed on the spot.
- Achieved a settlement on behalf of our client, the parents of a young man who passed away, in a matter involving an effort to decrease the share of the estate to which the man’s estranged spouse was entitled under the law as their son died without a will. The settlement was achieved prior to having to file a petition with the Philadelphia Orphans’ Court seeking forfeiture and the enforcement of previously agreed upon distribution terms.
- Obtained an appellate court’s reversal of an order that did not credit our Florida client with certain expenses he personally paid for the benefit of companies jointly owned with his former wife, which had resulted in an inequitable windfall to her.
- Defended against a probate litigation in Queens County, New York seeking to set aside inter-vivos transfers and a change in beneficiary that benefited one child over another.
- Prosecuted an action against a second spouse that successfully set aside a change in beneficiary of the decedent’s brokerage account, which previously named his children.
Guardianships and Conservatorships
- Successfully petitioned the court for an appointment of a guardian in a hotly contested proceeding between siblings.
- Defended against a request by a sibling to have his sister removed as a guardian for their mother.
- Successfully petitioned the Superior Court of New Jersey, Middlesex County, to have a niece appointed as guardian after the death of the prior guardian.
- Achieved a dismissal of a guardianship application seeking to replace the agent under a parent’s power of attorney and health care directive.