Experienced Litigators Handling Family Trust Legal Matters throughout Sugar Land, Houston and the Surrounding Areas
A trust is an arrangement whereby one party (the trustor) leaves assets to the care of a trustee, who is then obligated to manage these assets for the ultimate benefit of one or more beneficiaries. A trust can be useful for avoiding probate, reducing taxes, and protecting assets from creditors – among other things. Unfortunately, however, there is a risk of conflict whenever significant assets are involved.
Trust disputes arise for a number of reasons. Since the terms of a trust are generally specified in a written trust document, there may be disagreement on the interpretation of the terms of the trust. A trust dispute may also arise when trust beneficiaries seek to replace the trustee or compel her to perform an action such as distributing assets to the beneficiaries.
The Texas Civil Litigation System is Adversarial to the Core
Trust disputes frequently cause emotional turmoil, especially when disputes arise among family members still mourning the death of the trustor. As experienced trust litigation lawyers, we understand that you may need us to take steps to avoid protracted litigation and preserve family relationships. At the same time, we understand that you seek justice, and that it’s our job to make sure you get it.
Litigation under the Texas Trust Code can get incredibly complex, and courts apply confusing and arcane rules of evidence and procedure to the proceedings. At Romano & Sumner, we understand that you need someone to guide you through this legal maze. Take heart, however – fighting for justice on behalf of people like you is what we have been doing for many years.
A Testimonial from One of Our Clients
(Translated by Google) My name is Ruth Zimmerhanzel, I am a Christian, widow, and mother of the family. I had the privilege and blessing of having the lawyer Paul Romano represent me. It is worth mentioning that his professional ethics, honesty, determination, and experience in litigation is very worthy of admiration.
After the painful loss of my beloved husband, in a foreign country, it was extremely difficult to find someone whom I could trust and who spoke Spanish. But God in his love and mercy allowed me to meet one of the most noble lawyers which I have ever known before.
God bless you always, again, thank you very much. — Ruth Zimmerhanzel
We take the following types of cases among others:
- Will Contests: A will may be disputed for many reasons. For example, the will may be a forgery, the testator may have been subject to undue influence, or a creditor may have a claim against the estate. Will contests tend to be marked by emotional turmoil and legal complexity.
- Estate Litigation: Estate litigation includes will contests, trust litigation, joint tenancies, appointment and removal of fiduciaries, and other related disputes. When an estate dispute arises, it is critically important that the estate lawyer devise a strategy to avoid endless litigation and avoid alienating family members from each other.
- Guardianship: A guardian is someone appointed by the court to manage the affairs of a minor or an incapacitated adult. A proposed guardian must petition the court for an appointment, however, the guardianship may be contested by any interested party. The ward (the minor or incapacitated adult) is entitled to legal representation, as is the proposed guardian.
- Guardianship Litigation: Disputes frequently erupt over guardianship arrangements. Most guardianship disputes are over whether the ward is truly incapacitated, whether the prospective guardian is qualified, and whether the guardian should be removed for incompetence or misconduct. Guardianship disputes can get particularly acrimonious, as the stakes are very high.
- Business Litigation: A business dispute can erupt for any number of reasons – breach of contract, antitrust issues, shareholder liability for business debts, fraud, control, dissolution, director and officer liability, asset foreclosures, intellectual property infringement, and many other possible issues. The best business lawyers seek solutions that take into account the business priorities of their clients – such as preserving business relationships.
- Estate Planning: An effective estate plan is a must for people whose lives include both financial dependents and significant assets. An effective estate plan is a creative accomplishment. It takes into account both the legal background and the specific characteristics of the estate for which the plan is being formulated.
- Estate Taxes: If death and taxes are the only two certainties in life – estate taxes are almost as certain – at least if your estate is wealthy enough to trigger tax liability. Although Texas has no estate tax, the federal government does, and the threshold changes from year to year.
- Probate Administration: Probate administration involves a variety of activities, including:
- filing petitions for the appointment of personal representatives,
- taking inventory of an estate,
- notifying creditors of probate proceedings,
- settling estate debts,
- distributing estate assets,
- filing tax returns, and
- preparing accounting statements – among other tasks.
- Business Law: The law touches every aspect of doing business, from entity formation to commercial transactions, all the way to liquidation or bankruptcy. Trying to “wing it” on your own knowledge of business law is risky. Many legal risks are not immediately apparent, and ignoring them could not only bankrupt you but might even result in your incarceration.
We also practice in other areas of law such as tax controversies, gift tax issues and trademark law.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Can a trust beneficiary seek to have the trustee replaced?
Yes, under certain circumstances. You can examine the trust document to see if it includes any conditions under which the trustee can be replaced. If it doesn’t, then you will need to prove some sort of misconduct on the part of the trustee and petition the court for a replacement.
What information about the trust is the trustee obligated to provide to beneficiaries?
Under the Texas Trust Code, the trustee is obligated to provide trust beneficiaries with an annual accounting statement that includes:
- distributions to beneficiaries,
- all other trust transactions, and
- details of the bank into which trust cash is deposited.
What are the duties of a trustee under Texas law?
A trustee must:
- comply with the terms of the trust instrument,
- put trust assets to productive use (typically through investment),
- manage trust assets with the prudence, intelligence and judgment that an ordinary person would use in managing his own assets (the “prudent investor” standard),
- avoid conflicts of interest,
- refrain from borrowing trust assets,
- refrain from favoring one beneficiary over another, and
- provide beneficiaries with an accounting statement at least once a year.
What can I do if I need information about the trust more frequently than once a year?
If you request information more often than once a year, the trustee is still obligated to provide this information to you as long as your request is reasonable. If he doesn’t, you can file a lawsuit to compel him to provide this information. Additionally, the terms of the trust may require that information be distributed more than once a year.
What kinds of trustee misconduct constitute grounds for removal?
Some of the grounds for trustee removal include:
- incompetent management of trust assets,
- failure to make required distributions to beneficiaries, and
- violation of the terms of the trust.
Can a decline in the value of trust assets justify the removal of a trustee?
No, not by itself. If the trust instrument includes an investment standard, however, the trustee must comply with it. Otherwise, the trustee is held to the “prudent investor” standard. A mere decline in the value of trust assets might not be enough to prove that the trustee acted imprudently.
As a trust beneficiary, can I compel the trustee to make trust distributions to me?
That depends on the terms of the trust. If the trust gives the trustee absolute discretion, there is probably nothing you can do unless you find grounds to remove the trustee. If the trust instrument sets out rules for distributions, however, the trustee must follow these rules.
I suspect that my trustee removed assets from the trust and improperly distributed them. Can I compel the return of these assets from a third party?
Maybe, maybe not. You cannot seek compensation from a third party who is an innocent purchaser of the assets. You can, however, sue the trustee for their value (the trustee may or may not have the financial ability to pay the judgment, however).
A Stellar Track Record
Our firm offers personalized representation to our clients, as opposed to the formulaic “one size fits all” solutions that many mega-firms offer. Both of our partners have been named to the Super Lawyers list, an honor given to no more than five percent of the lawyers in this state. Our lawyers have also been rated “Excellent” and Superb” by the prestigious Avvo lawyer directory.
The Sooner You Act, the Better Your Chances Will Be If You Are Involved In A Trust Dispute
If you are involved in a trust dispute in Greater Houston, or if you anticipate litigation over a trust, contact the professional trust litigation attorneys at Romano & Sumner as soon as possible. Our initial consultation is always free of charge. We will listen to your story and help you examine your legal options, all without any obligation. Contact us online or by calling our office to get things started today.