Disputes involving trusts, estates and fiduciary duty can create tensions within families and organizations alike. Drawing on the decades of experience of our nationally recognized Estate Planning and Personal Representation practice, we understand these complex and often emotionally charged situations and provide a full scope of dispute resolution services to protect and defend our clients’ interests—and legacies.
Our preeminent team of private wealth and fiduciary disputes professionals represent individual and corporate fiduciaries, charities, individuals, heirs, beneficiaries, trustees and third-party claimants in a wide variety of trust and estate litigation matters in probate and civil courts, from case initiation through appeal. The depth and variety of our experience in these matters allow our attorneys to recognize circumstances in which expensive and time-consuming litigation can be avoided and more efficient alternative dispute resolution, such as arbitration and mediation, can be employed successfully.
We are keenly focused on achieving the best outcome for clients—in and out of the courtroom. Our estate planning team guides clients, beneficiaries and trustees in analyzing options and making informed decisions regarding trust and estate planning and administration to help avoid future disputes and prevent litigation, if at all possible.
Protecting not-for-profit corporations and charitable trusts
Additionally, our team defends not-for-profit corporations and charitable trusts against challenges to their decision-making under state charitable trust law and federal and state tax law and has successfully resolved disputes over investment decisions, the use of charitable assets (including restricted funds), the application of the cy pres doctrine and the modification of trusts. Often these matters involve the fiduciary responsibilities of officers, directors and trustees of charitable organizations, and we vigorously defend them in professional liability disputes.
Manatt attorneys also assist clients with controversies shaped by the complex restrictions of tax-exempt status. We offer comprehensive assistance in disputes with the IRS and state tax agencies over tax-exempt status and other tax liability matters and regularly represent our charitable clients in will contests and other disputes regarding charitable bequests.
What we do
Our team handles disputes involving:
- Breach of fiduciary duty
- Fiduciary misconduct and fraud
- Estate administration
- Investment mismanagement
- Trustee removals and abuse of discretion matters
- Accounting disputes
- Will and trust contests
Manatt represents clients in a variety of private wealth and disputes issues, including:
- A high-net-worth individual in arbitration, with the arbitrator finding entirely in our client’s favor on her claims for breach of fiduciary duty and breach of the duty of loyalty against her former business manager and legal advisors and awarding our client attorneys’ fees, expert fees, costs and prejudgment interest. Manatt initially uncovered and assessed the extent of the fraud and handled the high-stakes arbitration in a compressed period of time.
- A bank in navigating a dispute involving a trust. The beneficiaries—a father and his two sons—are estranged, and the bank turned to us for assistance with the sensitive situation. We advised the bank on how to respond to an inquiry from the children as to how the trust funds would be disbursed, and in particular, how they would be taxed.
- A high-net-worth individual in defending against a petition to remove him as a trustee of a substantial trust, ultimately negotiating a favorable settlement allowing our client to remain as trustee. The matter required a combination of litigation, trust administration, tax experience and strategic business advice, which helped achieve a successful resolution.
- A California retail and commercial bank acting as a trustee in a dispute with a state hospital agency, which alleges the trustee abused its discretion in following the terms of the trust at issue and declining to reimburse the state agency for millions of dollars of services provided to the deceased patient.
- A high-net-worth individual with reviewing complex estate planning documents from her late husband and late father-in-law, which contained significant mistakes by a previous lawyer and carried a risk that a major portion of the intended bequest to our client would instead be distributed to her late husband’s sister. We defended the client’s interests by responding to the trustee’s petition and successfully resolving this dispute—ultimately protecting our client’s assets and her late husband’s intentions.
- A college as the sole beneficiary of a high-net-worth individual who held properties and personal assets (including museum-quality art) in California and France. We are protecting the college’s interests in the estate by working with California and French counsel to ensure that the estate is appropriately managed under California and French law.
- A high-net-worth individual on all aspects of trustee obligations, including resolving a dispute with our client’s sibling, who is setting up a claim to remove our client as a trustee of the family trust. We helped the client respond to threatening demand letters and have continued counseling her in remaining vigilantly committed to her fiduciary duties, thus helping her avoid litigation.