Is the number of contested Trust and Estate cases increasing? Some Estate lawyers asked that question on their blog. Their post, titled The Rising Tide of Trust and Estate Litigation, is an interesting read. It contains some valuable insight.
Now, I’m no Estate lawyer. I certainly do not write Wills or Trusts. Let me repeat that — I do not write Wills or Trusts. My opinion on that topic is simple — You should seek an expert in Estate planning on those issues.
I focus on trial work — Specifically cases for personal injury and damage. That’s where my experience enters the picture. I have prepared Will and Trust contests by heirs for trial. That is, I have been hired to pursue cases in court where heirs and beneficiaries have been damaged by misconduct. While I do not engage in Estate planning, I do engage in representing heirs and beneficiaries damaged by the wrongful conduct of others. I am one of the few trial lawyers I know in my area who has actually tried a Will contest to a jury.
These cases can tear apart families in ways that are not repairable. I’ve seen it first-hand representing heirs who were wrongly excluded. These cases are not for lawyers who are faint of heart.
The article I mentioned at the beginning of this post identified several factors causing the increase in cases. Four of those factors were issues in damage cases I prepared for trial. I discuss them below. To that, I’ve added a fifth issue which plagues our local community in northern Alabama. These factors are:
- Elderly Living With Dementia. Our population is aging. Advancements in medicine mean people can live beyond life expectancies just decades ago. With increasing life spans, we likely have an increasing number of people living with various stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. In many of these instances, another family member begins to exert a dominant influence over their aging relative. We have handled cases where the dominant caregiver used his or her position selfishly to the harm of their family. In one of our recent Trust cases, a dominant child transferred all his elderly mother’s Trust funds to himself. After she passed, he told his siblings she left no savings. In one of our recent Estate cases, a dominant child took his elderly father to a local lawyer (a scumbag lawyer) who re-wrote the Will to exclude the elderly man’s other child. In both cases, the elderly person suffered advanced dementia and did not understand their actions. In the Trust case, we obtained a judgment and collected the stolen funds. In the Will Contest case, the defendant settled just before the jury heard the evidence.
- Blended Families. Blended families can create a number of special inheritance issues. From questions about the ownership of assets, to planning desires for one’s own children, to needs for elderly care, a number of complex questions arise. That’s why I think it essential to see a lawyer with expertise in the field of Estate Planning.
- Remote Family Members. Many elderly people rely on their children or other relatives who live locally. That’s OK. Yet, it is a lot easier for the local caregiver to exert undue influence that ultimately harms relatives living elsewhere.
- Templates For Estate Planning. Many services advertise a template for a Will or Trust. Years ago, I represented some clients whose parents had used just such a service. The template provided by that service was poorly written. Because of that, the Trustee almost walked away after wrongfully taking all the parents’ assets. I say “almost” because we were able to obtain a judgment against him and recover the stolen proceeds before he could hide them.
- Lawyers Working Outside Their Specialty. I added this factor because it plagues the legal community. Just look at all the billboards along Alabama highways! As a personal injury lawyer, I have long seen the harm settlement mill lawyers cause their injured clients. I get calls weekly from people who hired one of these settlement mill lawyers from a billboard or television ad just to have their case ruined. We even have one local Huntsville firm advertising for everything on billboards. Yes, that firm is even advertising for Estate Planning clients on billboards and elsewhere. They are actually telling prospective clients on radio and television that “no matter” your problem “we got this.” Wow! I’ve spoken to several expert Estate Planning lawyers in Huntsville who have seen the damaging results of such lawyer advertising. Here’s the added problem with hiring the wrong lawyer for Estate Planning — You may not see the damage in your lifetime but your heirs will.
Is there a rising tide of lawsuits involving Estate and Trust issues? Perhaps. We certainly see a number of factors that put our elderly friends and neighbors at risk of wrongdoing. As a community, the respect we show our elderly and our families tells a lot about us.
At the Blackwell Law Firm, we specialize in personal injury and damage cases. We focus on our work as injury lawyers in order to better serve our clients.