Trust and Estate Litigation

Trust and Estate Litigation

Overview

Disputes involving trusts and estates present special challenges, including high financial stakes; difficult family dynamics; unique and complicated procedural, legal, and tax issues; and the most exacting duties imposed by law. Schiff Hardin advises fiduciaries and beneficiaries confronted with these issues, with three guiding principles in mind:

  • Solving a problem beats winning a lawsuit. We love to win cases, but above all we are problem-solvers. Modern trust and estate law offers a menu of options for resolving controversies without court intervention. We explore potential solutions, and seek ways to avoid the delays, risks, and emotional and financial costs associated with litigation. We are often asked to assist clients well before differences of opinion evolve into active adversity, and we are often successful in averting litigation through prudent action while the parties are still on speaking terms.
  • Litigation should be handled by litigators. A lawyer’s skills should match the task at hand. Our colleagues in the estate planning, corporate, and tax fields team with us to work through substantive issues. But when it comes to advocating our clients’ positions in court, we rely on courtroom lawyers — lawyers who have grown up first and foremost as litigators with experience in, and a professional focus on, making the strongest case to a judge or jury in a court of law.
  • There is no substitute for experience. Our clients don’t just need great litigators — they need great litigators who know trust and fiduciary law inside and out. We have successfully resolved hundreds of trust and estate disputes from coast to coast. We understand the issues and know how to present them, and our clients benefit from our experience.

Premier Clients, High Stakes

We litigate trust and estate disputes at the highest level. Corporate fiduciaries call on us to handle their most sensitive matters, including “rescue” situations in which we are asked to assist or replace prior counsel. Wealthy individuals engage us to represent them in some of the country’s largest and most complex trust and estate disputes, ranging into the billions of dollars.

Teaching and Thought Leadership

In addition to shaping the law in the courtroom, we write and speak about it, sharing our knowledge with industry professionals and fellow lawyers. Clients regularly seek our counsel for ways to manage fiduciary risk.

Nationwide Reach

Backed by the resources of Schiff Hardin’s Litigation Practice, our group has trust and estate litigation capability in offices from coast to coast, and we have represented clients in courtrooms across the country, including the key jurisdictions of Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, and New York.

  • Experience

    • We won summary judgment on behalf of the trustees of a $150+ million trust that supports a private school, defeating a series of claims by a state attorney general, a contingent beneficiary, and the parents of some school students, each of whom asserted that the trustees breached their fiduciary duties.
    • After prevailing at trial on more than two dozen claims of breach of fiduciary duty, we won on appeal in a case that confirmed that there is no right to a jury trial for breach of fiduciary duty claims against a trustee.
    • With hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, we successfully litigated a trust and legal malpractice dispute involving claims of breach of fiduciary duty against a trustee who also served as counsel to the trust and various beneficiaries.
    • We successfully defended a corporate fiduciary and its individual co-trustee in the trial court and on appeal against claims for trustee removal, trust reformation, and breach of fiduciary duty concerning discretionary distributions.
    • We were selected by our fellow counsel to present oral argument on behalf of multiple beneficiaries and three corporate fiduciaries in the successful appeal of a case of first impression under the Illinois Trusts and Trustees Act.
    • We successfully defended claims by a beneficiary/co-trustee that the corporate trustee should have “saved her from herself” by preventing her from withdrawing assets from her multi-million-dollar revocable trust and pledging trust assets for loans she took out to acquire personal real estate.
    • We succeeded in recovering millions of dollars for a decedent’s family after her second husband bilked her out of her life savings.
    • We achieved notable appellate victories and recovered full contract damages plus interest in a dispute over the succession agreement for a family business.
    • We defended a decedent’s handwritten will in a contested probate proceeding, protecting over 80% of the assets for the will beneficiaries.
    • We defeated the IRS in a Tax Court trial over claimed taxpayer errors in the execution of an estate plan.