Category Archives: Trust Disputes

No Contest Clauses Protecting Fiduciary Misconduct: Hunter v. Hunter’s Discussion of the Concept

This post is part 3 in our 7-part series on the Virginia Supreme Court’s ruling in Hunter v. Hunter (Record No. 190260). Today we focus on an extremely important portion of the ruling that discussed concerns about how expansively-worded no contest clauses could protect unscrupulous trustees. To my knowledge, this is the first time that this concept has ever been addressed in a written opinion interpreting Virginia law, so this is a very significant development. For years, we’ve written on this blog about the dangers that increasingly-broadly-worded no contest clauses pose. The concern lies, in short, in the fact that …

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No Contest Clauses Are Strictly Construed: Hunter v. Hunter’s Discussion of the Concept

In Hunter v. Hunter (Record No. 190260), the Virginia Supreme Court devoted nearly a page of its opinion to discussing how no contest clauses in Virginia are strictly construed. Its discussion contains some new language that may prove to be helpful to litigants on this issue. In this second part of a seven-part series of blog posts on the Hunter case, we examine the implications of the Court’s discussion of this issue (note: part one of the series can be found here.

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Virginia Supreme Court Issues Significant New Decision on No Contest Clauses (Hunter v. Hunter)

The Virginia Supreme Court recently handed down one of the most significant trust and estate litigation opinions in years. In the unanimous ruling in Hunter v. Hunter (Record No. 190260), the Court (for the first time) expressly approved of an alternative-pleading model whereby a trust beneficiary may first seek a declaratory judgment as to whether a proposed claim would trigger a no contest clause, and obtain a ruling on that threshold question, before deciding whether to proceed with the prosecution of the claim. Full disclosure: I litigated the Hunter case on behalf of the successful appellant, both at the trial …

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Virginia Supreme Court Issues New Ruling Regarding Commissioner of Accounts

Last month, the Virginia Supreme Court handed down a new ruling that confirms that circuit courts lack the authority to delegate final authority to approve accountings to the Commissioner of Accounts. While this ruling (in Moni Henderson v. Stephanie P. Cook, Trustee and Conservator for Thomas E. Noojin, Record No. 180772) doesn’t necessarily break new legal ground, it does provide a helpful overview of the law relating to the process by which the Commissioner of Accounts reviews accountings subject to the circuit court’s final review of the accountings.

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Legislative Update: Virginia’s General Assembly Acts to Reduce Inconsistencies between Revocable Living Trusts and Wills

As more people elect to use revocable living trusts for estate planning purposes instead of traditional wills, the disposition of property will increasingly depend on the interpretation and determination of revocable living trust provisions.  Virginia’s General Assembly (“General Assembly”), Virginia’s state legislature, recently acted, with House Bill 746, to address some of the principles governing revocable living trusts.  House Bill 746, which has been signed into law, amends several statutory sections of the Virginia Code relating to trust and estate law (collectively, the “Amendments”).  The Amendments serve to reduce some inconsistencies in the substance and interpretation of revocable living trusts …

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How to Disinherit a Child: 5 Tips to do so Successfully

This blog post discusses the steps that parents can take to disinherit a child and, in doing so, maximize their chances that their disinherited child won’t successfully challenge the parent’s will or trust. When to Disinherit Clearly, no parent should necessarily want to disinherit a child. But, there are a range of situations that could make such a decision not only warranted, but also necessary. For example, some children completely ignore their parents, or act so disrespectfully towards them, that it would be entirely appropriate to disinherit a child. I’ve seen scenarios whereby children have been disinherited for having tried …

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Doctors Notes for Will Signings: Should You Get One?

I recommend that before an ill or very elderly person signs a will (or trust), that the estate planning attorney obtain a note from a doctor as to the person’s mental capacity. Doing so will help create a record that will make it more challenging to contest the will (or trust) on the basis that the person lacked testamentary capacity (i.e., the requisite mental capacity in order to execute a will or trust). I’ve litigated over 100 estate disputes, and more often than not, the doctors notes that I see are poorly drafted and do not help much. My goal …

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Undue Influence in Virginia: Does the Undue Influencer Have to Be a Beneficiary?

Without question, one of the most common estate disputes we see centers around allegations that one person unduly influenced another person to write (or re-write) a will or trust.  The typical situation involves an elderly person, no longer capable of living independently, who becomes increasingly reliant on another person for care and assistance. Under Virginia law, undue influence occurs when a testator’s free will is destroyed due to the influencer’s close relationship with the testator.  This theory is one of the most common methods used to attack a will or trust.  There are different ways to prove undue influence.  Undue …

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Posted in Court Opinions, Disinheriting Family Members, Elder Law Disputes, Fiduciary Accounting Requirements, General, Legal Terminology, New Laws, Preventing Disputes, Trust Disputes \ Comments Off on Undue Influence in Virginia: Does the Undue Influencer Have to Be a Beneficiary?

The Role of the Commissioner of Accounts in Virginia Estate and Trust Administration

People typically picture the probate process going something like this: a person dies, you find their will, you take the will to the courthouse, the executor pays the debts, and then the executor distributes the assets.   Of course, the process is much more complicated and time-consuming than that.  Moreover, there are also multiple people involved in the process of administering an estate or testamentary trust.  One of these critical people is the Commissioner of Accounts. If you are serving, or have served, as the executor or administrator of an estate in Virginia, you will no doubt have been in contact …

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Posted in Court Opinions, Elder Law Disputes, Fiduciary Accounting Requirements, Fiduciary Duties, General, Guardianship/Conservatorship Proceedings, Legal Terminology, Trust Disputes, Will Disputes \ Comments Off on The Role of the Commissioner of Accounts in Virginia Estate and Trust Administration

Trust Decanting Disputes

As trust decanting becomes increasingly popular, we can expect to see more disputes and litigation regarding trust decanting. This blog post examines some of the main issues that will likely arise in those disputes. First, what is trust decanting? The Uniform Law Commission states: “’Decanting’ is the term used to describe the distribution of assets from one trust into a second trust, like wine is decanted from the bottle to another vessel. Decanting can be a useful strategy for changing the outdated terms of an otherwise irrevocable trust, but can also be abused to defeat the settlor’s intent.” Essentially, decanting …

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