“We know trust related lawsuits can be complicated and confusing. Breathe a sigh of relief by hiring the experienced trust litigation lawyers at Romano & Sumner to aggressively fight for you. “
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 at (281) 242-0995 to get things started today.
The trial attorneys at Romano & Sumner have experience in handling a variety of trust litigation matters.
As an experienced trust contest attorney will tell you, the creation of a trust must follow the requirements of Texas law; therefore, the validity of a trust may be the subject of trust litigation. Just as a will can be challenged and contested, so too can a trust be challenged on such grounds as fraud, duress, undue influence, coercion, or lack of mental capacity.
We often see these types of scenarios in a Trust Contest:
- Father has been showing increasing signs of dementia. Out-of-town daughter, who previously was not very involved in father’s life, swoops in and takes dad home with her. When dad passes one year later, his other children find out that during the time their father spent living with out-of-town daughter dad executed a trust which leaves everything to out-of-town daughter and disinherits all of his other children.
- Son lives with mother on the family ranch. When he does not get his way, son can be extremely hot headed and difficult. Because she is old and frail, mother is totally dependent on others for her activities of daily living. Son insists that he be the only one to help mother, and when his siblings try to assist he throws a fit and threatens to stop caring for his mom. At mother’s death, son’s siblings discover that their brother has unduly influenced mother into signing a trust that leaves the entire ranch to him to the exclusion of his brothers and sisters.
- All the children knew that Dad had a will that left his estate to them in equal shares. However, when Dad dies, evil daughter produces a trust that names her as the primary beneficiary. Upon comparing the signature on the trust to other signatures of Dad, evil daughter’s siblings question the authenticity of the writing.
Each type of challenge in a Trust Contest has specific legal standards which must be proven in order to overcome the trust in question. The trust contest lawyers at Romano & Sumner will thoughtfully listen to you explain your situation and help you to determine whether the trust with which you are dealing is capable of being challenged on the grounds of either fraud, duress, undue influence, coercion or lack of mental capacity.
Trust Fraud, Trustee Fraud, Trustee Breach of Fiduciary Duty & Removal of a Trustee
A trustee has a fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of the beneficiaries of the trust. A fiduciary duty is the highest standard of duty implied by Texas law. Sometimes when there is a breach of fiduciary duty by a trustee the beneficiaries of the trust can institute a proceeding for removal of the trustee.
The following situations are ones we commonly encounter in trust fraud, trustee fraud, trustee breach of fiduciary duty and removal of a trustee cases:
- Uncle has been named as trustee of minor nephew’s trust. Although nephew’s trust should have plenty of money in it, Uncle makes minimal distributions and claims that the trust has been almost depleted.
- Sister is named as trustee of the family trust created by mom and dad. After repeated requests for information and documentation sister refuses to divulge any information about the assets or management of the trust to her siblings.
- Aunt is named as trustee of a trust set up for niece by niece’s deceased parents. Aunt neglects her duties as trustee and fails to properly diversify trust investments causing the trust assets to be dangerously exposed to the whims of the market. Although Aunt is too busy to properly manage niece’s trust, she refuses to relinquish control to a more qualified party.
The trust litigation legal team at Romano & Sumner have dealt with these situations before and can assist you in enforcing your rights as a trust beneficiary. If a trustee is mismanaging your trust, stealing trust assets or refusing to turn over requested information to you, our attorneys will lead you through the process of either bringing a trustee in line or instituting a proceeding for removal of a trustee.
If you are looking for aggressive and knowledgeable trust contest lawyers, trust fraud lawyers, trustee fraud lawyers, trustee breach of fiduciary duty lawyers or removal of a trustee attorneys, contact the trial lawyers at Romano & Sumner.
Romano & Sumner, PLLC is proud to serve these Texas areas
Cities / Suburbs:
The Woodlands | Sugar Land | Baytown | Conroe | Katy | Friendswood | Pearland | League City | Richmond | Rosenberg | Spring | Humble | Kingwood | Clear Lake City | Stafford | Jersey Village | Cypress | Missouri City
77478 | 77479 | 77487 | 77496 | 77498 | 77459 | 77489
Harris County, Fort Bend County, and surrounding counties