Know What You’re Getting Into: The Timeline Of A Trust And Estate Lawsuit
After a loved one passes away, the process of administering his or her estate is not always an easy endeavor. In some cases, disputes can arise among the parties. These disputes may ultimately lead to a litigation matter.
Stages of the Trust and Estate Litigation Process
If you are involved in a trust or estate dispute that is heading towards litigation, you can expect the following to occur as part of the process:
- Investigation and research. During the first stage of a trust or estate litigation matter, your attorney will thoroughly investigate the facts surrounding your claim. Your legal team will also conduct research to determine the law applicable to your case. Your attorney will likely call upon you to provide valuable information as part of this process.
- Pleading. During the pleading stage, the parties to the claim formally state their claims and defenses. The lawsuit commences when the plaintiff or petitioner files the complaint or petition stating the claims against the defendant. Each claim is a separate cause of action. Examples of a cause of action include fraud, undue influence, and breach of fiduciary duty.
- Discovery. Discovery is the stage at which each party discloses their evidence to the other party. This stage of the process will give you a better sense as to your likelihood of success in the case because it also reveals the strengths and weaknesses in your opponent’s arguments. Discovery may consist of interrogatories, requests for admission, and document requests.
- Mediation. Mediation is an important part of the trust and estate litigation process because it is an attempt to reach a settlement of the dispute before going to trial. Mediation is the most common form of alternative dispute resolution. In many cases, the presiding court will order the parties to attempt mediation before trial. The mediator may be a local attorney specifically trained in mediation or a professional mediator.
- Expert witness depositions. As part of the discovery process, your attorney may seek expert witness testimony to support your claim. This type of witness provides an opinion relating to the subject at hand that is beyond that of the average person and assists the judge or jury in reaching a decision. Unlike the time period for the discovery process, which ends 30 days before trial, the expert discovery cut-off lasts until 15 days before trial.
- Trial preparation. If mediation is unsuccessful and trial is looming, the next step in the process is to organize the information and evidence obtained during discovery. The goal is to create a logical and compelling narrative to support your claims. Your attorney must identify all of the witnesses and documents that will be used at trial. This may include a need to issue subpoenas to compel certain witnesses to appear. Your legal team will also organize the medical and financial records, discovery responses, and deposition transcripts that will be used in court.
- Trial. Claims that do not settle ultimately lead to trial. During this stage, your attorney will present your case to the judge or jury. This process could take anywhere from days to months. In some cases, the trial will not take place over consecutive days and will instead be spread out over many weeks. After each side has presented its case, the judge has 90 days to issue a decision.
- Appeal. If you find yourself on the losing end of a trial, all hope is not lost. You may still appeal your case in most situations. The California Probate Code outlines the specific situations in which a trust or estate matter can be appealed. The right to appeal is subject to strict time limitations, so it is important for the party considering bringing the appeal to act quickly after the initial findings of the trial court judge are issued.
While this process may seem overwhelming, the good news is that you do not have to go it alone. We are here to help, just as we have helped countless other clients protect their rights through a trust or estate lawsuit. We encourage you to check out our many client testimonials for more information.
The Grossman Law Firm, APC · 525 B Street, Suite 1500, San Diego, CA 92101 · (951) 523-8307