Trust and Estate Litigation
Even the most carefully drafted estate planning instrument can be subject to challenge due to unforeseeable events, breaches in duty, and breakdowns in familial relationships. At the Voelker Litigation Group, we are knowledgeable in cases arising from will contests, undue influence, breaches of fiduciary duty, lack of clarity in the language of a trust or will, ownership of real property that is part of an estate, trust reformation, lawsuits against an estate, delayed distribution of trust funds, and assets missing from a trust. The trusts and estate litigation attorneys at our firm can represent people throughout the Chicago area and elsewhere in Cook County in a broad range of disputes.Challenges to Trust and Estate Instruments
Some of the most common trust and estate lawsuits are will contests, which turn on whether a will is valid. Within six months after a will is admitted to probate in Illinois, an interested person can file a petition to contest its validity. The person contesting the instrument has a right to trial by jury. You should be aware that anybody who voluntarily accepts a beneficial interest under a will or trust in Illinois is considered to be ratifying and confirming the total will or trust that provided the benefits, under the doctrine of election.
Another common source of disputes is a trustee's breach of fiduciary duty. As a trustee, you should be aware that you have many fiduciary duties, such as a duty of care, a duty of loyalty, and a duty of impartiality. You must follow, among other things, "the prudent investor rule." Under this rule, a trustee must follow investment strategies that use reasonable business judgment and take into account the reasonable production of income as well as the safety of capital in a trust as a whole. If you have special expertise, you are expected to use it when managing the trust. A trustee who violates this rule can often be held liable. You probably will not be held liable, however, for a bad outcome if you acted reasonably and an unforeseen event occurred, such as an economic recession.
Some beneficiaries are concerned that a trustee has misappropriated funds. The court has power to appoint a trustee ad litem and enjoin the use of current trust assets. In order to get a preliminary injunction, a beneficiary will need to show that he or she has a certain, clear right that needs protection, that the action will likely succeed on its merits, that irreparable harm will occur without the injunction, and that there is no adequate remedy at law.
Sometimes the language in a trust document is unclear. In that case, either a beneficiary of the trust or its trustee is permitted to bring a trust construction action. Trusts are interpreted with the goal of effectuating the intentions of the settlor (the creator of the trust) as expressed in the language. As long as this intent is not contrary to public policy or the law, the court will try to make sure those intentions are followed by using the plain and ordinary meaning of the words. The court will look at outside evidence only when there is some sort of ambiguity in the language of the trust, and the intent therefore cannot be determined.Explore Your Options with a Knowledgeable Litigation Attorney in Chicago
Emotions can run high in disputes between family members, especially in matters involving money. Our Chicago lawyers understand the issues involved in many types of litigation, ranging from business disputes to trusts and estates. Contact the Voelker Litigation Group at 312-870-5430 or via our online form. We represent clients in Oak Park, Schaumburg, Glencoe, and other Cook County communities, as well as in Kane County cities such as Elgin and Aurora. Our firm also has handled matters in Florida, California, and Wisconsin, among other states.