Trust, Estate & Probate Litigation
Providing Answers, Not Just Analysis
When facing a complex dispute over a trust or estate, you want Lurie, Zepeda, Schmalz, Hogan & Martin’s experienced litigators at the helm. The genesis of our Trust, Estate & Probate Litigation practice was demand from trust and estate planning attorneys. They knew our firm for our successful business litigation practice and wanted us to apply our problem-solving skills to their clients’ complex trust administration disputes, will contests and conservatorship issues.
Since those early referrals, we have resolved hundreds of matters, large and small. We apply our skills as litigators to quickly identify the facts and establish a strategy. We know how to get evidence admitted and, since we are frequently in probate court, the mediators and judges know us. Along the way, our kind bedside manner helps reduce your stress as we zealously represent your best interests in the following areas:
Successfully defended a spouse in a probate matter involving a motion to reopen her late husband’s estate proceeding. The decedent’s property was already administered pursuant to a court order which left everything to the spouse. The moving party claimed he had recently found the decedent’s will in which the decedent had left the bulk of the estate to him, and that the spouse therefore was not entitled to the decedent’s property. Ms. Tsylina was able to prove that the decedent had revoked that will and that the distribution to the spouse was therefore appropriate. Ms. Tsylina also successfully argued that the moving party significantly delayed bringing the probate proceedings before the Court. The motion was denied in favor of Ms. Tsylina’s client, with the original court order on spousal property petition left undisturbed.
Defended a will contest after it was discovered that the Decedent died holding in excess of $50 million in stock and other assets. The validity and authenticity of the will were hotly contested, and our client had intentionally destroyed evidence to preserve the good name and character of the Decedent. Statement of Decision. After prevailing on an evidentiary hearing on the contestants’ motion for terminating sanctions, the matter was favorably settled with our client receiving an eight-figure settlement, more than any of the other interested parties.
Successfully defended, and obtained a profitable settlement for, settlors’ employee and trusted confidant of over ten years. Settlors entrusted client to operate their retail franchise and expand their real estate empire and then ultimately appointed client as a trustee of their family trust and named him a beneficiary as well. To further reward client for his continuing years of service after settlor husband’s death, the survivor made client a beneficiary and trustee of her separate property trust. Yet, despite being praised by both settlors during their lifetimes for client’s immigrant success story and for generating millions of dollars of wealth for the settlors and their financially dependent adult children, client was accused of a myriad of baseless claims by the settlors’ child once the survivor passed away. To further exacerbate an already overly hostile and “scorched earth” lawsuit, the parties were simultaneously endeavoring to work together to raise cash for estate tax purposes, conduct a forensic accounting of the survivor’s commingled finances, and file the survivor’s estate tax return – an endeavor that was needlessly hostile toward client and, in turn, was irreversibly draining the assets on a monthly basis. Through relatively early mediation, client obtained a highly favorable settlement, which, when taking into account the alarming rate at which his adversaries were depleting the survivor’s assets, turned out to be, quite ironically, nearly equivalent to what would have been client’s intended bequest under the disputed trust. Client walked away with wealth-generating assets and no further professional obligations to his adversaries. Most importantly, client walked away finally free of his personal commitment to financially provide for settlors’ child, which was borne from his unwavering loyalty to his longtime employer, mentor, and friend, the settlors.
Successfully represented the daughter of Columbo star Peter Falk in a highly-contested conservatorship proceeding to secure visitation rights. Conservatorship was granted and visitation was ordered by the Court, despite the fact that the law does not specifically grant the Court such power.
Successfully represented beneficiaries in an elder abuse and trust administration dispute against their aunt’s caregivers for exerting undue influence in inducing the elderly lady to amend her trust. Negotiated a settlement in beneficiaries’ favor. Caregivers acknowledged that the amended trust was invalid and relinquished all remaining trust assets to clients.
After an elderly man was induced to modify his will to leave his house to his gardener, defended the trustee against claims of elder abuse asserted by the gardener and prosecuted cross-claims for elder abuse and undue influence against gardener. Successfully settled the entire matter before trial.
In a heated family battle over the care and control of Casey Kasem, successfully represented his daughter, Kerri Kasem, in obtaining a judge’s order for the temporary conservatorship of Kasem.
Successfully represented trust beneficiary in asserting claims for breach of fiduciary duty and breach of trust against successor trustee and advisors for failing to maintain and preserve trust assets and allowing residential property to sink into foreclosure. Convinced successor trustee to sell defaulted residential property through a conventional sale, rather than an estate auction, and negotiated favorable settlement netting sufficient funds for client to relocate and purchase home.
In a heated dispute between two sibling co-executors and sole beneficiaries of their father’s estate, successfully represented one sibling regarding the estate’s administration and distribution of assets. In mediation, negotiated a settlement in client’s favor. Client received proceeds from the sale of his father’s home and a percentage of royalties generated from songs written by his father.
In trust administration litigation between two siblings/co-trustees, successfully represented client/co-trustee in his claim that his co-trustee/sister had unduly influenced their surviving parent to include her as a joint account holder on all bank accounts and subsequently looted the accounts before the death of their parent/trustee. The Court found that respondent/co-trustee had wrongfully taken $253,930, entering an order holding the respondent liable for twice the value of the property wrongfully taken in bad faith and awarding our client his full attorney’s fees.
Successfully represented the successor trustee of his deceased father’s trust in the prosecution of claims against his father’s caregiver for elder abuse. Caregiver had caused the diabetic, blind father to create an entirely new estate plan leaving substantial assets to the caregiver to the exclusion of the decedent’s children. Over the course of multiple mediation sessions with a retired probate judge, negotiated a favorable settlement for client that required the caregiver to denounce the estate plan she had caused the decedent to execute, and transfer back title to an apartment building transferred to her under the invalidated estate plan.
Successfully defended trustee against her two brothers in a financial elder abuse claim which later was dismissed on appeal. Plaintiffs alleged client had stolen millions of dollars from their parents’ trusts while parents were living, but purportedly incapacitated. Plaintiffs also alleged claims for breach of fiduciary duty and requested removal of client as a trustee and an accounting. Prevailed in trial, which included 37 days of testimony.
Successfully prosecuted claims for breach of trust and breach of fiduciary duty alleging that testamentary trustee misappropriated trust assets. Prior to trial, obtained ex parte order removing the trustee and appointing a professional fiduciary for trust administration. Defeated trustee’s motion to enforce No-Contest Clause in trust instrument. Prevailed in a one-week bench trial, with client receiving a substantial financial awar
Successfully prosecuted claims on behalf of two grandchildren of an oil tycoon in a hotly-contested trust litigation against their brother and others for accounting, surcharge, appointment of successor trustee; ascertainment of beneficiaries and distribution of property on termination of trust; breach of fiduciary duty; intentional misrepresentation; fraudulent concealment; negligent administration of trust funds; wrongful termination in violation of public policy; and injunctive relief. A central issue in the case was management and control of a hotel property in Mexico, a major trust asset. After four lengthy mediation sessions, successfully removed defendant-brother as a co-trustee and settled the case on favorable confidential terms. When defendant re-filed the case and attempted to rescind the settlement agreement the following year, successfully filed for summary judgment with the Court upholding the settlement and granting judgment in favor of clients. The case thereafter settled again under confidential terms. Attorneys’ fees were awarded to client in both cases.
Represented wealthy client hospitalized by the police at UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute pursuant to Welfare Institutions Code Section 5150. Prevailed in a Reese Hearing when client refused medication prescribed by UCLA. Later, after client had recovered in a private facility and facility refused to release her, successfully represented client at a habeas corpus proceeding, obtaining her immediate release.
Represented trustee of testamentary trust on petition to recover trust assets taken by trust beneficiary and defended trustee against beneficiary’s cross-petition for removal. In mediation, negotiated settlement in client’s favor and obtained substantial surcharge against beneficiary’s interest in the trust.
Settled a trust administration dispute in San Diego Superior Court in favor of client, whose parents had both died of cancer while she was a minor, against her trustees and guardians. Trustees and guardians had stolen about $7 million from client’s trust and caused her to live in an institution. Achieved appointment of an independent trustee.
Represented the adult children of a supermarket founder in a trust contest against their stepmother. Clients alleged stepmother importuned their father to substantially disinherit them, claiming lack of testamentary capacity, undue influence and coercion. The case settled on confidential terms after two lengthy mediation sessions.
When a will contest was not thoroughly resolved after a bench trial, replaced former counsel in representing respondent to determine whether assets owned by client and his deceased wife were separate or community property. After an evidentiary hearing, the court confirmed in client’s favor, that the property was separate and ordered that the estate was not entitled to any reimbursement.
Represented a co-trustee/beneficiary against her co-trustee/beneficiary brother and their beneficiary sister in a complicated trust dispute regarding assets. The matter involved three lawsuits in varying jurisdictions: Los Angeles Superior Court; Fauquier County, Virginia; and, the District of Columbia. Client claimed her brother had mismanaged the development of several parcels of land and an apartment building in Bealeton, Virginia; paid himself exorbitant development fees; and, reimbursed himself for expenses unrelated to the trust. Settled favorably for client in the third day of mediation in Washington, D.C.
In a trust contest settled favorably for client, represented the surviving wife/petitioner against her stepson. Client alleged that she and her 2nd husband had agreed that the first of them to die would leave his/her respective interest in their family home to the surviving spouse. After her husband’s death, client discovered he secretly had modified his trust at the urging of his son, leaving his half of the family home to the son. Client’s claims included breach of contract to make testamentary disposition; breach of marital fiduciary duty; tortious interference with right to inherit; and, breach of fiduciary duty.
Settled a will contest favorably for beneficiary after the estate’s executor claimed client had procured the beneficiary designation by fraud. Decedent had designated our client as a pay-on-death beneficiary of an account holding $250,000. Settled favorably for client in mediation.
After the death of a wealthy man, successfully represented his adult children from his first marriage against his second wife-trustee regarding the interpretation of the deceased’s trust. In trial in Riverside Superior Court, Palm Springs Courthouse, the court affirmed our clients’ interpretation of the trust that trustee had not distributed assets as required after her husband’s death. Additionally, the Court disallowed deductions from distributions of over $700,000 in trustee’s personal expenses from trust. Finally, the Court substantially adopted our position on the valuation of a key asset held in trust.
Successfully amended a patriarch’s trust so that his immediate family members would receive approximately $2.2 million of his estate rather than $1.5 million. The amendment was based upon a holographic amendment to the patriarch’s trust executed approximately two months prior to his death. The patriarch’s trust included thirty beneficiaries in addition to his immediate family.
Obtained a temporary conservatorship over a high net worth individual suffering from dementia to prevent him from continuing to give substantial gifts of real and personal property to his predatory caregiver, and from marrying her as planned. Clear and convincing evidence standard for appointment of a conservator and Probate Code specifically provide that a conservatee presumably retains the right to marry. Thus, we successfully pursued special orders limiting the conservatee’s rights beyond those permitted by the Probate Code. Case pending in Riverside Superior Court, Indio.
Successfully represented the siblings of a wealthy decedent in a will contest against the decedent’s niece and caregiver over his $50 million estate. Los Angeles Superior Court ruled entirely in clients’ favor on issues including testamentary capacity and undue influence. Client’s will admitted to probate.
After a son abducted his mother, successfully obtained conservatorship of the mother and prosecuted an action for elder abuse against the son. The son was ordered to return his mother to her home. The judgment for elder abuse was granted and the son was disinherited as a result of the financial elder abuse.
Negotiated a multi-million dollar settlement for plaintiff in a breach of trust claim relating to mismanagement of a $40 million estate. Strategically used the threat of the “Fiscal Cliff” to negotiate lifetime gifts to achieve settlement
Negotiated a multi-million dollar settlement in a highly-contentious breach of trust and elder abuse case relating to management of a $20 million trust. Settlement was achieved by demonstrating the tax advantages of an immediate lifetime gift of real estate and the certainty of agreeing to future after-death gifts.
Successfully settled an elder abuse and breach of trust case on favorable terms for client, the decedent’s daughter, against her brother, the successor trustee. Before settlement, case was pending in Humboldt County Superior Court.
Resolved a will contest in Ventura Superior Court favorably for client, the trustee of her mother’s trust, against her sister. Client’s sister claimed she had inherited the family home under a will executed shortly before their mother passed away. The will was withdrawn, the trust was affirmed and the house remained an asset of the trust.
Achieved a settlement exceeding $1 million in Los Angeles Superior Court for client against her uncle in a trust administration dispute regarding client’s grandparent’s trust. The uncle-trustee had failed to account and distribute trust monies owed to client for over five years and had egregiously commingled his own assets with trust assets.
Successfully represented three of five adult siblings against their sibling-trustee in a trust administration dispute in Los Angeles Superior Court, Lancaster. Trustee had failed to account timely or properly and had misused trust assets. Achieved a settlement entitling clients to a significant distribution from the sale proceeds of trust property tied up in escrow.