When Do You Need a Lawyer? Understanding Fiduciary Litigation

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Burns & Levinson LLP

We have previously discussed the different types of litigation, but when do you need to hire a lawyer? There are many reasons to hire a lawyer, and below are the top five reasons to hire a lawyer who specializes in fiduciary litigation:

  1. Lawyers know the law. Fiduciary litigation involves controlling statutes and law. Too often, clients think that searching on Google is sufficient, but such self-help research is vastly deficient and incomplete. Experienced lawyers know everything from deadlines that preserve your rights, to inheritance rights, to whether there are any grounds to challenge a disliked will or trust, to statutory grounds to recover legal or fiduciary fees, and to strategic arguments relating to complex legal issues, such as no contest clauses, notice, standing, statutes of limitations, and so forth. These are all traps for the unwary.
  2. Lawyers know the court forms and procedure. The probate court, in particular, requires numerous forms in cases involving estates, trusts, guardianships, and conservatorships. It is easy to overlook a box to “check” on a form or a required form to file, which could result in the court rejecting the filing or missing some substantive relief you might want from the court. The probate process is confusing, with deadlines to tax reporting authorities, notice due to creditors, and rights owed to beneficiaries. Lawyers handle the forms and process for you.
  3. Lawyers know the court staff and judges. There are many different judges who have various backgrounds and knowledge of probate procedure, which could impact the amount of detail, law, or argument to make. In addition, and especially during the pandemic, the probate court is extremely backlogged, and knowing court staff, their various roles, and their contact information can help answer questions on the status of your case and keep your case moving through the court as quickly as possible.
  4. Lawyers know other lawyers. Most fiduciary litigation cases are settled, either before or during a contested proceeding. Knowing the lawyer representing a sibling or fiduciary can help obtain answers to questions so as to avoid litigation, resolve a dispute so as to save time and legal fees, or provide strategic insights into the other side’s knowledge (or lack thereof) with this complex area of the law.
  5. Lawyers provide an outside perspective. These cases involve family and often unearth feelings of jealousy, sadness, anger, pride, etc. We see many contested cases between siblings that started decades ago in the sandbox, or arising out of distrust in a blended family. Skilled lawyers can provide advice and an outside perspective considering all of the unique factors involved in the family relationship.

If a loved one has died and you are unsure what to do, ask a skilled attorney for a consultation. Consultations are often complimentary or one hour of the attorney’s time. Taking this step can answer questions and ensure that you feel comfortable with and trust whomever you retain.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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