Case Study: An Investigation Leads to Evidence of Trustee’s Misdeeds
All names have been given fictional replacements to protect the identity of our client. The legal facts and resolution of the probate litigation case have not been altered.
When disagreements occur regarding the validity of a will or the administration of a probate estate, the financial management and distribution of a trust, or a question of mental health capacity, our probate litigation attorneys help clients to obtain a resolution.
In a recent case, Rhoades McKee represented Jack Dempsey. Jack was the only mutual child of Robert and Alice Dempsey, who both had children from prior marriages. Robert was a wealthy and well-known local business owner. Robert and Alice established estate plans and Trusts that were intended to benefit all of their children. Robert and Alice appointed children of their first marriages as Trustees.
Unfortunately, with his parents’ passing came complications. During her lifetime, Alice gave Jack a vacation home. The Trustees learned that the vacation home had been given to Jack after Alice’s death. They proceeded to exclude Jack completely from his mother’s Trust and reduced his share of his father’s Trust because he had received the vacation home. The Trustees also refused to either account for the Trust’s income and expenses over the years or provide Jack with list of the Trust’s assets. Jack turned to Rhoades McKee to protect his interests in his parents Trusts.
On Jack’s behalf, Rhoades McKee filed a petition in the Probate Court requesting a list of the Trusts’ assets (an “inventory”) and an accounting of the Trust’s income and expenses, and asked the Court to direct the Trustees to administer the Trusts according to the terms established by Alice and Robert.
Critical to effective representation of Jack’s interests was an understanding of the Trusts’ assets and past activity. As the case unfolded, it became apparent that the children from the Dempseys’ first marriages, particularly those who were appointed as Trustees, were resentful of Jack, their half-brother. They also attempted to intimidate Jack by threatening him with an expensive legal battle if he failed to agree to their plan to cut him out of the two Trusts. The accountings provided by the Trustees contained little detail, and fewer assets than Jack anticipated.
The Rhoades McKee probate litigation team decided to dig deeper into the Trusts’ activities, and served subpoenas upon the Trusts’ banks and brokerage firms. The documents obtained through the subpoenas revealed that the Trustees had secretly given over $700,000 of the Trust assets to their children and their children’s spouses over many years, and had transferred valuable antiques and collectibles to family members to the exclusion of Jack, contrary to the Trusts’ terms.
Through the efforts of the Rhoades McKee probate litigation team, Jack not only was able to keep the vacation home given to him by his mother, he received his full equal share of both parents’ Trusts and his share of the Trust funds that had been given by the Trustees to their children contrary to the Trust requirements. He also received a valuable painting that had been given to another family member. Their secret transfers having been uncovered, the Trustees agreed to settle before trial, which ultimately saved Jack significant fees and costs.
For more examples of how Rhoades McKee resolves cases view additional probate litigation case studies.