There’s two ingredients to every good Trust and Will trial lawyer: (1) an in-depth knowledge of Trust and Will law, plus (2) an in-depth knowledge of civil litigation. Many lawyers know one or the other, but not both. That can be a problem for successfully navigating a Trust or Will lawsuit through the Court to resolution at trial.
And now the complex world of Trust and Will has become even more complex with the unification of the definition of undue influence in the Welfare and Institutions Code (see Section 15610.70). The newest definition for undue influence is used both for Financial Elder Abuse claims and overturning Trusts and Wills in probate lawsuits. That means nearly every undue influence case now can also include a financial elder abuse claim. But while the definition of the claims may be the same, the procedure for trial of the two claims are vastly different.
Financial elder abuse claims are decided by a jury. And they can include an award of attorneys fees, punitive damages, and even disinheritance of the wrongdoer (if the claim can be proven by the higher evidentiary standard of clear and convincing evidence). Whereas, Trust and Will lawsuits are decided by a judge (called a bench trial), and there are no provisions for attorneys fees, punitive damages or disinheritance.
In other words, to successfully navigate a financial elder abuse claim through the Court you need jury trial experience as well. Trying to find a lawyer with jury trial experience who (1) knows Trust and Will law, and (2) understands civil litigation, is a tall order. But not impossible…you guessed it, that describes my law firm (big surprise).
Okay, so I am proud of my firm and the unique expertise we bring to Trust and Will cases. But my aim in writing this post is not to talk about how wonderful Albertson & Davidson is (heck I can do that anytime). Rather, my goal is to set out the criteria you should be looking for in choosing a lawyer for your Trust and Will lawsuit. It has become a highly specialized area of the law, and while there are many lawyers you fail to appreciate the complexities of this area of the law, you (the potential client) should be aware of this specialty.
So how can you be sure you have the right lawyer for the job? Be prepared, ask a lot of questions, and make sure you feel comfortable with the lawyer approach. Not every lawyer is right for every client, it is up to you to find a good fit for your Trust and Will case.