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San Francisco Trust Litigation Lawyers in California

Hiring a trust litigation lawyer is an important decision. At Barr & Young, our trust litigators treat our clients’ matters as if they were our own. Throughout a trust dispute, a trust contest lawyer will provide experience-based legal advice and advocate effectively to protect your interests.

Trust Litigation Barr & Young represents clients throughout Northern California, including Danville, Walnut Creek, San Francisco, Pleasant Hill, Livermore, and Oakland.

What is Trust Litigation?

Trust litigation is the process of resolving trust disputes in a civil lawsuit in Probate Court. Often, the dispute centers around a significant issue in the trust, or an action or inaction of the trustee. Being an executor or a trustee is an important job, but for many, it is an unfamiliar role. Disputes can land in court when the stakes are high – and the outcomes are life-changing. Having trust dispute attorneys behind you is imperative.

A common scenario is conflicting interpretations of what the deceased person intended or desired. Conflicts requiring an inheritance dispute lawyer can revolve around handling of the trust assets, or undue influence by third parties or family members. Sometimes, cases center around strategic tax planning of distribution to heirs and moving assets to beneficiaries tax-free.

Matters Our Northern California Trust Dispute Lawyers Can Assist You with

The lawyers at Barr & Young handle every aspect of estate and trust disputes, which often fall into the five categories discussed below:

  • Breach of Fiduciary Duty
  • Disputed Trust Accountings
  • Trustee Removal
  • Disputes between Cotrustees
  • Petitions for Instructions

Breach of Fiduciary Duty

Every fiduciary litigation attorney at Barr & Young has handled hundreds of trust litigation cases involving a breach of fiduciary duty. This can arise in a number of scenarios:

  • Failing to follow the terms of the trust
  • Failing to avoid conflicts of interest
  • Failing to disclose relevant facts
  • Misappropriation of funds of trust.

The breach of any of these duties could give rise to a claim for trustee breach of fiduciary duty in California.

Disputes Over Trust Accountings

California law protects beneficiaries and requires trustees to act in their best interests. Beneficiaries often suspect that a trustee has breached their fiduciary duty, but they do not have any grounds to prove it. Trustees who have done nothing wrong are sometimes accused of wrongdoing by unreasonable or suspicious beneficiaries. Many disputes are resolved when the trustee discloses all the trust assets and transactions in a probate accounting.

The Probate Code provides that a trustee must provide beneficiaries with an annual accounting. The trust may waive this requirement, in which case the trustee need not account. However – even if the trust waives an accounting, a trustee must provide an accounting upon the request of a beneficiary. Upon a request, if the trustee does not provide an accounting within 60 days, the beneficiary may file a petition asking the court to order the trustee to file an accounting with the court.

Trustee Removal

Trustees are free to decline to serve – and sometimes this is the best choice. But what if a trustee refuses to resign? If a trustee has breached their fiduciary duty, they cannot be trusted to continue to serve in their role as trustee, with control over significant amounts of cash and securities, the management of real property, and other important responsibilities which, if neglected, could harm the beneficiaries’ interests. This can be a concern when trustees are known or suspected to have substance abuse or mental health issues, and a trust beneficiary attorney can help.

When our breach of trust attorney files a petition alleging a breach of fiduciary duty, we often also include a request that the trustee be removed and replaced with either another (successor) trustee named in the trust or a private professional fiduciary or corporate trustee. If the trustee’s behavior or actions are egregious, the court may suspend a trustee early in the case and appoint a temporary trustee.

Disputes Between Co-Trustees

Co-trustees are common, as many people are uncomfortable selecting one family member over another. Having two trustees can be problematic when there are decisions to be made and there is no unanimous agreement. Disputes requiring an inheritance dispute attorney can arise between cotrustees in several common scenarios

  • One cotrustee wants to administer the trust quickly and the other drags his or her feet
  • One cotrustee takes a “lead” role and the other trustee is geographically far away and slow to communicate
  • The cotrustees disagree about how to dispose of a particular asset, such as a house or vacation home. (Perhaps a residence in Walnut Creek, a vacation home in Lake Tahoe, or a condo in San Francisco that one wants to sell and another wants to keep.)
  • One cotrustee will not communicate with the other
  • The cotrustees simply don’t get along; or worse, hate one another.

These scenarios often end with one cotrustee hiring a trust beneficiary lawyer and filing a petition to remove the other co-trustee, or filing a petition for instructions in which they ask the court to order a cotrustee to take a particular action.

Petitions for Instructions

Trustees often find themselves in a “damned if you do-damned if you don’t” situation. For example, one beneficiary wants to purchase the family home in San Francisco out of the trust, but no one can agree on a fair buy-out price. One beneficiary objects that the buy-out price is too low. Whatever he or she does could expose the trustee to a charge of breaching the duty of impartiality. In these situations, our trust litigation attorneys often recommend filing a “Petition for Instructions” under Probate Code Section 17200.

This procedure allows the trustee to explain their predicament to the court, offer a proposed solution, and ask the judge to approve their decision. The petition is then served on all the beneficiaries, who may object to the proposed solution and offer their own. While these petitions often involve issues of significant monetary value (like real estate and investment accounts), they are sometimes necessary for other reasons, such as the disposition of cherished family heirlooms. Heirlooms may have little monetary value but significant emotional value, e.g., who gets dad’s war medals, mom’s wedding ring, or grandmother’s antique china collection?

Schedule a Consultation with California Trust Litigation Lawyers

We handle all types of trust dispute litigation matters in California. If you would like to know your rights and options, contact us to speak with a lawyer. We offer a free consultation to answer your questions and determine what needs to be done in your case.

Why Do You Need to Hire Trust Dispute Attorneys?

There are a number of scenarios where you may need to hire a trust litigation attorney:

  • You are a trustee who has made an error and you are not sure how to fix it.
  • You are a trustee and a beneficiary has requested a trust accounting or evidence of trust assets or a trust balance.
  • You are a trustee and have been accused of misconduct, or aren’t sure how to respond to a demanding or unreasonable beneficiary.
  • You are a beneficiary and concerned about a trustee’s impartiality, honesty or competence.
  • You are a beneficiary and suspect undue influence.
  • You are a beneficiary and a trustee has refused to provide you with the accounting you requested.
  • You are a beneficiary and a trustee will not respond to your questions or communication.
  • You are a co-trustee and your fellow co-trustee is uncooperative.

If you find yourself in one of these situations, our California trust litigation attorneys can help.

Why Choose Our San Francisco Bay Area Trust Contest Lawyers?

There are many benefits to hiring Barr & Young for your estate or trust litigation matter:


Our attorneys have practiced trust litigation in the Bay Area for many years. Because we know the courts and the legal process, we are able to avoid delays and mistakes, and obtain results in less time than other law firms.

Committed to Client Satisfaction

Whether we are representing family members, trustees, or corporate fiduciaries, we understand that the stakes are high and trust disputes are highly sensitive. We are not afraid to take on complex or challenging cases, and are often brought in “rescue” situations to help prior counsel.

Contact Our Northern California Trust Litigation Law Firm for a Free Consultation

Looking for a trust dispute lawyer? Contact Barr & Young to speak with one of our experienced attorneys. We have more than 20 years of experience handling trust litigation cases throughout the Bay Area, from San Francisco to Oakland to Walnut Creek. Our commitment and mission is to remove the legal burden from our clients and do the heavy lifting.


Whether the trust will pay attorneys’ fees?

When our trust litigation attorneys meet with new clients, one of the most frequently asked questions is whether the trust will pay their attorneys’ fees. When a beneficiary is litigating against a trustee, the answer is usually “it’s possible, but you should not count on it.” There are a few scenarios under which a beneficiary may recover their attorneys’ fees, but they are relatively few. It is much more common for trustees to have their attorneys’ fees paid out of trust funds. Generally a trustee may use trust funds to hire professionals, including lawyers, to help them administer a trust. Therefore, when a trustee is involved in a dispute with a beneficiary, the trustee often pays the lawyers using trust funds.

What are the differences between civil litigation and probate litigation?

There are notable differences between probate court and civil court (where most non-criminal cases are heard). Probate court can be an unfamiliar and challenging environment for an attorney who doesn’t specialize in trust and estate litigation. One of the biggest differences is that a probate court is a court of “equity.” This essentially means the court has more latitude to do what the judge believes is fair. It can be frustrating when a judge imposes his own view of “fairness” on family members they know little about. Another difference is that most pleadings in probate court must be verified. This means that a client accusing a trustee or another party of wrongdoing must swear to certain facts under penalty of perjury.

4 Attorneys Ready To Help

Loren Barr
Nick Maxwell
Senior Counsel
Trust Administration


We Can Help You With Trust Litigation

  • Is your trustee looking out for you or themself?
  • Is your trust facing litigation?
  • Is anyone protecting your inheritance?
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