It is unfortunate, but true: People are fighting more than ever over wills and trusts. There are several reasons. We are living longer and are more likely to experience dementia or other serious medical issues, making them more susceptible to manipulation. At the same time, family members often live far apart, which may cause the burden of caring for an elderly parent to fall on one member. High divorce rates have resulted in second or third families, where not everyone is friendly with or trusts everyone else. Economic conditions also continue to be challenging.
Lerch Early’s litigation group has extensive experience in all aspects of estate and fiduciary litigation in Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Virginia. We help clients with matters involving claims of undue influence, diminished mental capacity, and other contested trust and estate issues by:
- Advising fiduciaries on their legal rights and responsibilities with respect to the administration of a trust or estate;
- Advising beneficiaries on their rights under a trust or will;
- Representing fiduciaries and beneficiaries in lawsuits and appellate proceedings;
- Avoiding litigation by helping resolve disputes before they end up in court;
- Protecting vulnerable individuals who are incapacitated by obtaining or defending guardianships; and
- Prosecuting and defending challenges to wills and estate plans.
Our seasoned litigators regularly collaborate with the firm’s experienced estate planning and administration attorneys when appropriate, allowing us to provide comprehensive, effective estate litigation services.
Undue Influence and Mental Incapacity
- Represented grandchildren of decedent in litigation over a multi-million dollar estate, which culminated in a four-day jury trial. Our clients sought to invalidate a codicil to a will that was procured by undue influence. We established that the Special Administrator and his counsel improperly withheld information, and obtained sanctions against them for more than $60,000.
- Represented the personal representative of an estate against allegations that a will was procured by fraud and undue influence. We persuaded the court to dismiss 28 of 29 claims and convinced the plaintiff to withdraw the remaining claim before trial. We then convinced Court of Special Appeals to dismiss the appeal because the brother challenging will failed to comply with court rules.
- Represented trustees in five-day trial against a regional bank seeking to invalidate a series of commercial agreements signed by the trustees’ elderly father at the behest of the bank. We were able to prove that the bank procured the agreements with actual knowledge of the father’s mental incapacity, resulting in a $1.5 million award to our clients.
- Defended a lawsuit brought against a personal representative. The suit was seeking to invalidate a will due to the alleged mental incapacity of decedent and the undue influence of caregivers. We convinced plaintiff to withdraw the lawsuit based on medical evidence we obtained through discovery, resulting in tremendous cost savings to the estate.
- Defended home-health care worker accused of using undue influence to procure monetary gift under the decedent’s will, persuading grandchildren of the decedent to dismiss our client from the case.
Personal Representatives and Trustees
- Represented trustee of two family trusts and personal representatives of estate in complex federal litigation alleging the fraudulent conveyance of millions of dollars of life insurance proceeds out of the estate.
- Obtained summary judgment in the trial court for a trustee defending claims of breach of trust; then persuaded Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals to affirm the trial court’s decision.
- Represented co-trustees in action against sibling for taking money from decedent; obtained six-figure judgment against sibling and evicted him from decedent’s house.
- Defended personal representative of estate and trustee of testamentary trust against claims of misappropriation of estate and trust assets, obtaining favorable settlement.
Beneficiaries and Interested Family Members
- Represented foundation of “Big Ten” university in persuading District of Columbia Superior Court to apply cy pres doctrine and to give our client real property even though the decedent had failed to properly place property in trust.
- Represented beneficiaries in the Orphans’ Court seeking the return of excess compensation paid to the personal representative of their father’s estate; resulting in $100,000 being returned to the estate.
- Represented children against their stepfather and avoided litigation by brokering a complicated settlement agreement that gave clients control of multi-million dollar home.
- Represented decedent’s second wife and obtained the removal of a personal representative for failure to take appropriate actions to defend a lawsuit brought against the estate by the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) alleging fraudulent conveyance; represented successor personal representative and estate against DOJ and resolved the case on very favorable terms.
- Represented widow in action against stepchildren and avoided trial by obtaining six-figure settlement in mediation.
- Represented personal representative in action against sibling who abused confidential relationship and pilfered hundreds of thousands of dollars.
- Advised father of special needs child to help resolve dispute with ex-wife over trust distributions.
- Negotiated settlement and obtained significant payment before trial from clients’ sibling who had used her power of attorney to transfer hundreds of thousands of dollars from their mother’s accounts into her own bank accounts.