Trust litigation is an intricate and extensive process. This is because judicial procedures comprise various steps to ensure that the matters that reach the courtroom have been prepared substantially to preserve due process and efficiency. It may appear daunting, but it is feasibly done with experienced counsel.
Pleadings kickstart any lawsuit. A pleading is a formal written statement of the suing party’s claims. Essentially, they are a legal document that notifies the opposing party why you are suing them, including a prayer for relief and the law that substantiates your claims. A pleading must be drafted, reviewed, and filed with the courts by an attorney within the statutory time provision to bring a lawsuit.
Once a pleading is filed with the court, the next phase is written discovery. Discovery is the compulsory disclosure of evidence by both parties of the lawsuit. It is where claims and proof are married together and, for such reason, one of Trust litigation’s most crucial yet tedious components. Discovery is what validates your claims and, ultimately, what will convince the court to rule in your favor. It is where each side shows their hands and provides each party with the necessary documents and information to form a full and complete argument. To obtain discovery, written requests, also known as written discovery, must be submitted. Written discovery is the formal request for information, admissions, and documents from the opposing side or third parties relevant to the claim. For example, this can be a request for medical records from a hospital to prove to the court that the Settlor had dementia when an amendment was created. This can also be a request to the opposing side to provide a complete copy of the Trust or whatever estate documents are in their possession.
Depositions are the subsequent portion of the evidentiary process. All witnesses relevant to the suit will need to be deposed, meaning they will be questioned on record and under oath, and their testimony will be used as sworn evidence. Witnesses that are typically deposed in Trust litigation matters are the Settlor’s treating physician (in situations where undue influence needs to be proved), the attorney that drafted the estate document in dispute, or even friends, families, and caregivers who can elucidate the matter. It is essential to carefully select witnesses and questions for the deposed witness because they can only be deposed once.
Before a case goes to trial, there is a chance for a settlement. Trial is a strenuous and expensive process for all parties involved. If there is an opportunity to rectify the issue outside of the courtroom, typically, both parties are willing to try. In this field, it is more common for cases to settle than to go to trial for this reason. Mediation or settlement conferences are the usual methods to negotiate a settlement. They are similar in that a settlement is the end goal but procedurally vary. Mediations are a meeting between the disputing parties that is moderated by a private, professional neutral third party (mediator) to assist the parties in negotiating and settling. Mediations are voluntary and operate outside of the court. A settlement conference is typically court-ordered (but can be voluntary) and is overseen by a judge or volunteering attorney who will assist the parties in negotiations without making decisions.
The next and final step is trial if a settlement cannot be reached. Your case will be heard in the courtroom in front of the judge. The time trial takes can vary: it can range from days to months. The trial time heavily depends on the availability of necessary parties, witnesses, and the overseeing judge. There are also pre-trial procedures and prep that will occur.
If you think your inheritance is in jeopardy, please contact The Inheritance Recovery Attorneys to see what you can do. Our firm offers free consultations and specializes in Trust and Will litigation. We are here to help you protect your inheritance and ensure your loved one’s wishes are fulfilled honestly.