Ohio Trust Contest Law Firm
Providing counsel in trust disputes across Ohio
A trust contest is a challenge to the validity of a trust. If you are in Ohio and have been excluded from a trust of a natural heir such as a parent, and you have your doubts as to the propriety of this exclusion, the proper method of addressing this issue is through a trust contest.
Filing a trust contest is a serious undertaking and must be handled carefully. If the technical rules governing Ohio trust contest cases are not carefully followed, the case can be dismissed without ever reaching its merits. For example, if the trust contest is not filed timely, then it becomes too late to contest the trust. Trust are usually much more complicated documents than wills; I have seen trusts of over 100 pages in length.
Changing a trust, determining intent
People tend to make changes to trusts more often than changes to wills. For example, people often sign a trust, then amend it several times, then completely restate the trust with all its amendments. It is necessary to acquire all of the trust documents in order to determine the owner’s intent, and how it evolved. Most Ohio trial lawyers do not handle trust contests because of the many unusual procedural rules that apply. And most lawyers who draw trusts and handle estates stay away from trust contests because of the acrimony involved and also because drawing trusts and contesting them are two entirely different matters.
Ohio trust litigation and filing a case
Often the beneficiary of the trust and the trustee are less than forthcoming in providing a copy of the trust, and its subsequent and prior trust amendments, the assets in the trust, and what really happened; the only way you can get information is to file a trust contest, or related action.
Filing the case is followed by directing written questions to the beneficiary and trustee, obtaining the file of the attorney who drew the trust, acquiring medical records, etc. After obtaining this information, the next step is to take the depositions of the beneficiary(s), trustee, attorney, and other persons with knowledge.
Common things that occur in trust contest cases include situations where a second spouse receives all assets under a trust to the exclusion of the decedent’s children. Another common pattern is where some of the children are excluded. Trusts are often changed shortly before a person’s death when he is in a diminished condition and sometimes the new trust is actually drawn by the beneficiary’s own attorney. The new trust is often coupled with changes of beneficiary designations on bank accounts, life insurance policies, real estate, annuities, retirement plans, deeds, etc.
Undue influence and sound mind disputes in a trust
The most common legal theory used in setting aside a trust is undue influence. Undue influence occurs when a person is pressured by another to sign a trust or trust amendment that does not represent his true intent. I have written an article published in the Probate Law Journal of Ohio on “How to Identify and Prove Undue Influence.”
Another common legal theory is lack of sound mind (competency). A person must be of sound mind to make a trust and there are specific legal standards in Ohio to establish soundness of mind.
Trustee conflicts of interest
Since trusts often continue well beyond the owner’s death, the trustee must conduct himself properly and in the best interests of the beneficiaries. If the trustee himself is a beneficiary, this can lead to a conflict of interest.
Being a trustee can be a complicated business. Unfortunately, today, many people try to reduce the expense of managing a trust by naming an inexperienced family member as trustee rather that a trustee with skill and knowledge and the inexperienced (and unqualified) trustee makes mistakes which harm other beneficiaries.
There are many different kinds of trusts. Husbands and wives often create living trusts for their own benefit while they are living and then for the benefit of their children after they die. Families may set up different kinds of trusts for specific purposes, such as paying for the college education of a grandchild, caring for a disabled or spendthrift child, or supporting a charity.
Beyond validity issues, other disputes that arise over trusts include self-dealing by the trustee, theft of trust assets, and breach of duty by the trustee.
Contact a dedicated Ohio trust contest and litigation lawyer
For over 30 years, I have handled probate disputes, both challenging and defending trusts. My practice is limited to probate litigation and I do not handle any other type of case. I am one of the few attorneys in Ohio who is willing to consider taking a trust contest on a contingency fee basis. This makes my services available to people who cannot otherwise afford to pay a lawyer on an hourly basis. I handle cases throughout the state of Ohio. For examples of some of the probate litigation cases I have handled, see my Sample Cases. Call 419-244-3006 or contact me online to schedule a free initial consultation in person or by phone.