Estate, Trust & Fiduciary Litigation

Estate, Trust, and Fiduciary Litigation

In addition to advising clients regarding the preparation of their estate plans and the administration of an estate or trust when a loved one has become incapacitated or passed away, the attorneys of Surovell, Isaacs, & Levy PLC also represent clients involved in legal disputes over wills, trusts, and estates. Our firm assists clients with respect to the following estate litigation matters, among others:

  • Will contests and disputes
  • Probate disputes
  • Trust administration disputes
  • Contested guardianship and/or conservatorship actions
  • Fiduciary misconduct allegations
  • Claims under the Virginia Slayer Statute

Our talented litigators will fight for you and keep you fully informed of your options throughout the entire process. As with all of the matters on which we advise clients, our primary goal is resolve matters as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible and always with an eye toward what is best for the individual client.

Will Contests and Disputes

In order for a will to be valid, it must be of a certain form and must be signed by the person making it, who is called the testator. More importantly, the testator must have the required mental capacity at the time the will is signed and must not have been coerced to execute the document. At times, a family member may question whether his or her loved one had the legal capacity to understand what he or she was doing when a will was signed, or whether the testator was unduly influenced prior to or at the signing of the will.

Probate Litigation and Disputes

Probate refers to the legal process by which the terms of a will are carried out. In the case of an intestate estate (one where the person died without a will), Virginia has laws that govern distribution of the decedent's property during the probate process. Our attorneys regularly assist clients with a wide variety of probate disputes.

For example, a person who has died may not have provided adequately for a family member, such as a spouse or child, in his or her will. As a result, it might be necessary or appropriate for that family member to seek an elective share or one of the other allowances provided for by Virginia law. These types of claims must be made in a particular format and within a certain amount of time, or they are waived. The claims may be contested by the executor or the administrator, and litigation may become necessary.

Another situation that sometimes occurs is someone passing away before taking necessary steps to legitimize a child born out of wedlock. Under Virginia law, a person born out of wedlock cannot inherit from a biological parent unless a legal proceeding has been initiated to establish that person's right to inherit within one year of the deceased person's death.

Occasionally, a beneficiary or other interested party may have concerns about how a particular estate is being administered and may wish to challenge its administration either before the Commissioner of Accounts or the appropriate circuit court. At other times, an executor or administrator may wish to obtain guidance from the court as to meaning of certain terms of a will.

Trust Administration Disputes

Just as a beneficiary of an estate or its executor or administrator may desire guidance from the court as to how the estate should be administered, beneficiaries or trustees of a trust can find themselves in similar situations. There may also be other questions, such as the appropriate compensation to be paid to the trustee for his or her services or the powers of the trustee under the trust document.

Contested Guardianships and Conservatorships

Under Virginia law, a family member, friend, or other interested person may seek to obtain legal authority to make health care or financial decisions for another person who does not have sufficient mental capacity to do so. At times, there may be more than one person who wishes to become appointed as guardian or conservator. It may also be the case that the person who is alleged to be incapacitated wishes to contest the appointment of a guardian or conservator.

Fiduciary Misconduct Allegations

An individual serving as a personal representative of an estate (which includes an executor or an administrator), trustee of a trust, agent under a power of attorney, or guardian or conservator of an incapacitated individual is considered to be a fiduciary. As such, he or she has certain legal duties and obligations as part of the responsibility of the position. Sometimes, beneficiaries may claim that a fiduciary is not meeting his or her legal obligations, thereby alleging fiduciary misconduct. There are also times that a fiduciary who is meeting his or her legal requirements is wrongfully accused of violating his or her duties.

Claims under the Virginia Slayer Statute

The Commonwealth of Virginia has a law known as a "Slayer Statute." The law provides that, under some circumstances, a person who causes the death of another person cannot profit or benefit from the victim's death. It is rooted in the historical principle that a wrongdoer should not benefit from his or her own wrong.

These cases involve complex issues of both trust and estate principles, federal employment rules, real estate, wrongful death matters, and often involve significant media attention due to the manner of death. Scott Surovell has handled multiple noteworthy Virginia Slayer Statute cases, preventing murders from obtaining over $1 million dollars of assets in multiple cases.

Schedule a Consultation with One of Our Northern Virginia Estate, Trust and Fiduciary Litigation Attorneys

If you are faced with any of these issues, or any others in the area of estate, trust, or fiduciary litigation, call or email us to schedule a consultation.