Benjamin Feder’s Trust Controversy Cases

Benjamin Feder’s Trust Controversy Cases

Will and Trust Contests

Elderly widow with dementia was moved to Arizona by her daughter and cut off from most contact with friends and family. The same daughter procured a lawyer to make various changes to the widow’s estate planning documents over the last few years of her life. We represented the widow’s son and filed a claim against the widow’s daughter alleging lack of testamentary capacity, undue influence and financial exploitation of an elderly person. Ultimately, the widow’s $5MM estate did not pass to the daughter as was designed, and a favorable settlement was achieved.

Represented trust beneficiary in will and trust controversy whereby beneficiaries’ share in 100+ commercial and residential properties in excess value of $75MM was misappropriated (chain of title had been compromised for many of these properties). This case focused primarily on claims of undue influence, tortious interference, and whether a testamentary limited power of appointment was valid.

Represented corporate executor and trustee in defending decedent’s will and trust challenge against her son. Son filed complaint seeking more than $2MM alleging that his mother lacked testamentary capacity.

Surviving son was disinherited from his father’s $20MM estate. Son filed Petition for Information seeking to locate a more recent Will by decedent that was purportedly destroyed by the surviving spouse. It is anticipated that a Will contest may also be initiated alleging undue influence by the surviving spouse.

Elderly woman sought to leave most of her estate to her beloved step-granddaughter (who also served for years as her guardian). However, a niece and nephew were believed to have accessed their elderly aunt's in-house safe, and destroyed the will so that they could try to inherit everything by way of intestacy. We were successful in using copies of the will and various litigation "tools" to yield a favorable settlement.

Represented decedent’s children in an action whereby decedent’s surviving spouse was to receive the bulk of the decedent’s estate pursuant to a purported will. Specifically, the children alleged claims of undue influence and tortious interference in connection with six wills and various land trust beneficiary designation and modifications that were completed within the last four months of the decedent’s life.

Represented one of three siblings who was both a trust beneficiary and the trustee in a $10MM+ trust case in which the other siblings alleged claims of undue influence and breach of fiduciary duties against our client. Four trust amendments were completed within three years of their mother’s death. Intense sibling rivalry has led to many motions and claims regarding conversion and elder abuse.

Served as expert witness in divorce case. Approximately three months prior to husband filing for divorce, he engaged in a series of gift and sale transactions seeking to transfer various closely held business interests (and most of the marital estate) to irrevocable, creditor protected trusts for the benefit of his children and his brother.

Represented the only child in an action whereby a decedent who was suffering from severe dementia was convinced by his longtime caregiver to get married. A new will was executed shortly thereafter that attempted to leave decedent’s $2MM estate to his “surviving spouse”.

Reformation and Trust Construction

Represented corporate trustee of $30MM trust in reformation action seeking to clarify various outdated and otherwise ambiguous provisions (e.g., investment restrictions in violation of prudent investor rules).

Represented beneficiary in trust dispute over an $8MM trust concerning the term “issue” and whether a limited power of appointment was validly exercised in his favor.

Engaged by individual trustee to provide comprehensive expert opinion report and serve as witness at trial as to whether the exercise of a certain Power of Appointment was valid. The holder of the Power of Appointment had the ability to dilute the current beneficiaries by a significant amount, and otherwise exercised that Power of Appointment to do so, but in a manner that exceeded the scope of the Power. Among the key issues were whether the Power of Appointment was valid in an amount at least equal to a percentage that the holder had authority to appoint per the trust instrument and a claim for breach of a corresponding breach of fiduciary duty (the holder of the Power of Appointment was one of the trustees and guardians for two of the beneficiaries).

Breach of Fiduciary Duties

Successfully removed the corporate trustee in a dispute over $100MM+ of closely held business interests that were held in a marital trust. Family members were not pleased about on-going large distributions that continued to be made to the surviving spouse. Corporate trustee repeatedly breached many fiduciary duties, including, but not limited to, failing to observe the distribution standard provided in the trust agreement.

Represented beneficiary in dispute over $30MM+ of interest held in a trust for his benefit and various closely held family businesses. Family members were acting as trustees for over ten years without observing their duty to provide proper accounting and violating their duty of impartiality by making a series of inappropriate investments for the trust. These same trustees were acting as the principals to a separate management company that was taking exorbitant fees from various operating businesses that were owned by this trust.

Represented sister in a trust controversy matter in which her siblings were acting as co-trustees. The co-trustees misled the beneficiary as to the distribution terms, refused to make distribution terms and engaged in various acts of self dealing by investing trust assets in their own closely held businesses. Co-trustees also breached their duty to diversify.

Represented surviving spouse who was the sole beneficiary of a trust that was created by her late husband. The late husband’s daughter, as trustee of this trust, filed suit against her stepmother because the stepmother improperly sold trust assets and retained that proceeds outside of this trust. We advised the surviving spouse to return the proceeds back to the trust, and seek to enter into settlement negotiations with the stepdaughter in order to try and dissolve the trust. This case highlights the unintended consequences when a client allows a draft person to include provision in a trust instrument whereby a decedent’s child is to serve as a trustee over a step parent’s trust with a balance of such trust assets to be distributed to that child. The inherent conflict of interest can make it challenging for the trustee to make distribution to the surviving spouse, which would otherwise go to him or her.

Represented husband and wife as the trustees of the wife’s late mother’s trust. Husband and wife were alleged to have mishandled assets and to have provided improper accountings. The judge found that: (a) clients has met each of their duties as trustees, (b) clients had provided proper accounting, (c) plaintiff was not entitled to any distribution from the trust until he released the trustees, (d) the husband and wife were entitled to the trustees’ fees they sought, and (e) the attorneys’ fees were to be paid exclusively from the plaintiff’s share of trust proceeds.

Represented beneficiary and significant shareholder in dispute over $100MM+ of interests in a closely held family business, family limited partnerships, family foundation, charitable lead annuity trust and various other family trusts as it relates to claims of deadlock and oppression in the closely held family business and multiple breaches of fiduciary duty for failure to be impartial, failure to provide proper accountings and various other fiduciary duty breaches. Specific attention was paid to managing both sensitive tax and creditor protection issues in the resolution of these matters.

Represented multiple defendants in a breach of fiduciary duty and conspiracy action in which decedent’s children were accused of breaching various fiduciary duties and conspiring to modify surviving spouse’s estate planning documents and misappropriate his assets to the decedent’s estate—resulting in him having limited access to $25MM in assets. After several years of contentious litigation the parties settled after a two day mediation conference.

Represented defendant in a breach of fiduciary duty matter where her siblings sought to recover compensatory damages, interest and forfeiture of trustee’s fees on grounds that defendant while acting as trustee misappropriated trust assets and provided imperfect accountings for the trust. Bench trial resulted in judgment entered in favor of defendant.

Represented trustee and beneficiary in a breach of fiduciary duty matter where her brother alleged multiple breaches of fiduciary duties (e.g., failure to provide proper accountings and misappropriation of trust assets). Summary judgment in favor of trustee/beneficiary was granted, and judge awarded that all attorneys’ fees be paid from the plaintiff’s share of the trust. The trustee was also successful in prevailing in the subsequent appeal.

Represent surviving spouse and step-daughter in breach of fiduciary duty matter where decedent’s son is alleging self-dealing by the trustees and failure to provide appropriate accountings.

Served as controlled expert witness in a matter for legal malpractice whereby purported trusts and estates lawyer repeatedly failed to advise trustee and beneficiary appropriately. Due to counsel’s various negligent actions and omissions, plaintiff did not receive her proportionate share of the proceeds from her parents’ estates, and was deprived of various personal effects from the estates in light of counsel’s repeated failure to provide appropriate guidance and direction.

Guardianship

The children filed a petition for guardianship seeking to get control of their elderly mother’s estate. The assets in the estate exceeded $10M, and the various claims alleged by the children necessitated a host of medical examinations. Ultimately, the petition was dismissed.

Represented a son whose father was being controlled by a business associate/friend. Son sought to obtain guardianship and help his father with various medical issues and protection of his finances. The estate’s assets exceeded $8MM. Bench trial resulted in guardian of person and estate being appointed for the father.