Fiduciary Litigation

A fiduciary is a person that stands in a position of trust.  Fiduciaries include trustees, conservators, guardians, executors, administrators, attorneys in fact (agents acting under a power of attorney), business partners, and corporate officers to name a few.

With more than 75 million baby boomers, the population is quickly growing older.  Meanwhile, our society has become increasingly litigious.  When you throw in feelings of entitlement, you set the stage for fiduciary litigation.   There are also more individuals serving as trustees than ever before, resulting in a rise in disputes caused by inexperienced trustees handling complex matters.

The best way to handle litigation is to avoid it altogether.  When possible and appropriate, we will often recommend alternative dispute resolution in lieu of drawn out litigation.

But sometimes litigation cannot be avoided.  In those instances, Wyatt’s fiduciary litigation team is uniquely qualified to serve your needs.  The combination of the Firm’s veteran litigators and the region’s top estate planning attorneys create a team that gets results.  We represent individual stakeholders (such as estate or trust beneficiaries and business partners), institutional fiduciaries such as trust companies, banks, charities, educational institutions, corporate directors, and corporate officers in these important and complex cases.  We also maintain a database of experts, such as psychiatrists and forensic accountants, who are knowledgeable and courtroom-ready in this type of proceeding.

We also offer a “menu” of presentations on estate planning topics for fiduciaries.  Most of these presentations are brought to the client’s place of business, and presented in a “Lunch and Learn” format.

We handle the following types of litigation on a regular basis:

  • Breach of fiduciary duties
  • Improper trust and estate administration
  • Trustee removals
  • Will and trust contests
  • Will and trust interpretations
  • Beneficiary distribution petitions
  • Contested conservatorships
  • Creditor claims
  • Accounting controversies
  • Elder abuse
  • Employee benefit trust disputes
  • Guardianship litigation
  • Reformation of private, split-interest and charitable trusts
  • Federal estate, gift and generation-skipping tax disputes
  • Litigation between financial institutions and their customers regarding fiduciary duty disputes

As one of the largest estate planning and litigation practices in the South Central U.S., we are able to provide clients with the experience and resources to handle complex trust, estate, and conservatorship disputes.  With eight Fellows in the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel, and six Certified Estate Planning Specialists,  not to mention dozens of litigators who have been honored in Chambers, Best Lawyers, Super Lawyers and Benchmark Litigation, we are uniquely suited to handle any type of fiduciary litigation.  In recognition of our experience in this area, we are also regularly called upon to act as expert witnesses in this type of litigation.

Estate planning and charitable giving, by its nature, involves money, family, and many times, differing interpretations of intent.  Our goal is to assist our clients in assuring that the true intent is upheld.

Examples of our experience:

  • Obtained summary judgment for a national bank, serving as trustee, against claims of mismanagement asserted by a member of the trust’s advisory committee, and against claims that the advisory committee members were entitled to millions of dollars in trust management fees.
  • Obtained a jury verdict in favor of a national bank, serving as trustee, recovering hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages from a life insurance company that breached the terms of a trust-owned life insurance policy.
  • Defeated numerous actions, both on summary judgment and at trial, seeking to remove executors and trustees from their fiduciary positions.   Likewise, we have extensive experience forcing the quick and efficient removal of executors and trustees who have abused their position of trust.
  • Obtained a judgment against a defendant individual fiduciary who, using the power of attorney, intentionally closed accounts specifically bequeathed to our client under the will.  This technically caused the entire estate to pass to the defendant under the will as the residuary beneficiary.  Following a bench trial, the trial court awarded a money judgment to our client.
  • Negotiated a million dollar settlement on behalf of an exploited trust beneficiary.  Decedent left his entire estate in a trust to support our client for her lifetime, while naming his accountant as trustee.  The accountant then compensated himself fees so excessive they dwarfed the distributions to the plaintiff, the trust’s sole current beneficiary.
  • Negotiated a settlement in favor of a bereft mother, whose son’s co-worker took him to an alcohol rehabilitation facility.  On the way to rehab, the co-worker took our client’s son to sign some paperwork.  After arriving at the rehab, her son’s blood alcohol tested nearly three times the legal limit.  It was later discovered that the paperwork named the co-worker as the beneficiary on all of the man’s retirement and life insurance through work.  The man’s only heir was his mother.  After the son died, we negotiated a favorable settlement in favor of our client.
  • Obtained a summary judgment against an opportunistic child.  A man passed away, leaving a substantial estate, survived by his wife and only child.  The entire estate was co-owned with right of survivorship.  Thus, the entire estate passed to his wife outside of probate and outside of his will.  So that the son could have something from his father’s estate, the wife disclaimed nearly a million dollars.  Over twenty years after the estate had been closed and settled, however, son sued the wife alleging she mishandled the estate.  We had the son’s case thrown out through summary judgment.