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The death of a loved one can be an emotionally charged and draining experience. What happens when this emotional time becomes even more complicated because issues arise in the distribution of the deceased’s trust? The thought of taking legal action at such a time may feel impossible and overwhelming, but your financial future could be at stake. When it comes to asset or property division, it’s important that you take action before the trust is completely drained or mismanaged.

The skilled Dallas contested trust attorneys at Staubus and Randall will handle the legal legwork for you and walk you through every step of the lawsuit. We understand that sometimes conflicts can arise following the death of a loved one. Our legal team has the knowledge and experience to tackle the complex legal issues that can arise from disputing a trust in the state of Texas.

If you are considering contesting a trust, contact Staubus and Randall at 214-691-3411 for an evaluation of the circumstances surrounding your case. We want to fight for you.

What Is a Trust?

A trust is simply a legal document that arranges for certain named individuals to hold assets or property on behalf of the person creating the trust. The person that creates the trust is also known as the grantor or the settlor. The person who is held responsible for managing the trust is called the trustee. It is the job of the trustee to protect the assets of the trust and make sure they are properly and correctly distributed to the named beneficiaries.

A living trust is a legal agreement that can be created while the property owner is still living. The grantor names the beneficiaries, and they receive the trust property after the grantor passes away. One of the advantages to a living trust is that it can help save family members the expense and delay of going through probate court.

In contrast, a testamentary trust takes effect after the maker’s death, but property passes into the trust by way of the will. This means that it must go through the probate court process before being distributed.

What Is a Trust Dispute?

A trust is originally formed in order to distribute property or assets in accordance with the grantor’s wishes. It is a legal agreement that is meant to keep these assets safe until they can be properly distributed for the benefit of the named party. Many people are under the assumption that a trust is an indisputable document – that simply isn’t the case. A trust can be disputed, but depending on the circumstances of the case, it can be a complicated legal process.

There are two main concerns that tend to give rise to trust disputes. The first is typically due to disagreement between beneficiaries over the validity of the trust itself. The second main form of dispute that can arise relates to the distribution of the assets at the hands of the appointed trustee. If beneficiaries feel that the trustee if mishandling the property or not administering the assets correctly, this can lead to a dispute over the trust in court.

Under What Circumstances Should You Dispute a Trust?

There are many circumstances and ways in which trust disputes arise in the state of Texas. A seasoned trust attorney will be able to review the circumstances of your individual case and give you the best legal advice for your particular situation. In general, these are some of the more common ways in which a trust may be disputed:

  • The trustee is mishandling the distribution of the assets or property or fails to follow the terms of the trust
  • The trustee improperly invests the trust assets
  • The trustee steals from the estate
  • The grantor lacked the mental stability or capacity to sign the trust document – this may mean the creator did not understand the document, didn’t understand what their assets were, or didn’t understand how the trust would distribute the assets.
  • An individual used undue influence to coerce the grantor into signing the trust
  • The grantor’s signature was forged
  • The language used in the trust itself is confusing, ambiguous, or otherwise unclear about the grantor’s wishes

What Is the Process for Disputing a Trust?

In order to dispute a trust, the individual who wants to file the dispute must first have some standing to sue or some interest in the final result of the case, such as a beneficiary of the trust. That individual must then go through the process of filing a lawsuit in state probate court or district court. There must be a valid reason to dispute the validity of the trust itself, such as one of the examples given above.

However, the cause is only one part of the equation. You must be able to prove to the court that the trust should be invalidated. If a person is claiming that the grantor lacked the mental capacity to understand an sign a legal document, such as a trust, there needs to be medical records, documentation, or other evidence demonstrating that the grantor lacked mental capacity, or was susceptible to undue influence. If a beneficiary claims that the trustee is mishandling assets, there needs to be evidence presented that shows the trustee is not acting with their fiduciary duty.

In the event that a court is convinced that the terms of the trust should be invalidated, the assets might then be distributed according to a previous will or trust. In the event that there is no such document, the state court may decide how to distribute all property and assets. However, if a probate court cannot be convinced that the trust should be invalidated, the assets will continue to be distributed as outlined by the trust document.

The process of disputing a trust can become very complicated, especially depending on the value of the trust or the types of property and assets that the trust includes. An experienced estate attorney can give you the legal advice you need regarding how to proceed and what your best options are. The attorneys at Staubus and Randall will thoroughly investigate and prepare your case and will aggressively represent your best interests at the negotiating table or in court.

Frequently Asked Questions

Following are some of the most common questions we receive about trust contests. An attorney can work with you directly to answer any questions you have about your specific circumstances.

What happens when the trustee is not following the rules of the trust?

A trustee has discretion to make decisions about the trust. However, that does not mean that they have carte blanche to do whatever they like in relation to that trust. There are rules they must abide by, and there are limits to what they can do. There are serious consequences for trustees who do not correctly handle or distribute the assets of a trust. They may be removed or even charged if they stole money from the trust.

How long can I expect a trust dispute to last?

The short answer is, it depends on the circumstances. Disputing a trust in the state of Texas may take a matter of weeks to resolve, but in some cases, it can take years. The length of the dispute typically revolves around how valuable the assets of the trust are and how determined each party is in gaining the outcome that is most favorable to them. In cases where both parties have an unwillingness to negotiate, settling the dispute may take years.

How much will disputing a trust end up costing?

Again, that is a question that can have many different answers depending on the circumstances of the dispute. Talking to an experienced estate litigation attorney is the best way to get a clearer picture of the fees you may incur and how long you can reasonably expect a case to take to make its way through the court system. The attorneys with Staubus and Randall offer a free consultation in order to give you a better idea of what your legal options are.

Why Choose Staubus and Randall for a Trust Dispute

The legal team at Staubus and Randall is made up of attorneys who are experienced in trust litigation and estate planning. With a dynamic combination of trial law skills, strategic thinking, and aggressive representation at the negotiating table, we pride ourselves on giving our clients the outstanding service they deserve. We understand that challenging a trust can be intimidating and daunting. However, our compassionate attorneys will help you navigate this complicated process at every step.

The attorneys with Staubus and Randall have over 100 combined years of legal experience. That’s experience that you can trust. If you find yourself in a situation where you’re considering disputing a trust, contact our team at 214-691-3411 for a free consultation. When your financial future is at stake, trust the legal team at Staubus and Randall to help you achieve the best legal outcome for your situation.

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Frequent Asked Questions

Estate planning is the arrangement of transferring a person’s assets and property after their death. The estate plan you create may consist of cars, homes, life insurance, assets, real estate, jewelry, and other types of personal property. When you create an estate plan, you must sign it in front of a notary public.

Even if you don’t have many assets, it’s still a good idea to create an estate plan, so that loved ones won’t argue over who gets what when you pass away. Your estate plan will ensure everything you own goes to specified parties and doesn’t end up in the wrong hands.

Typically, those with extensive or complex assets will hire an estate planning lawyer to help draft their will. Many use a will to divide personal property, such as a home, among their family members. When you’re preparing your will, you need to make sure you meet specific legal requirements. Having a witness present when you’re signing the documents is crucial.

Of course, it’s possible to draft a will on your own, especially if you don’t have significant assets to leave behind. However, hiring an estate planning lawyer can ensure that your documents comply with current law, and that everything gets divided among your family the way you want, so there’s no confusion.

A power of attorney is a legal document giving power to one person (an agent or attorney-in-fact) to act on your behalf if you become incapacitated. When you create a power of attorney, you can designate a specific person and decide how much authority they will have.

An attorney-in-fact would maintain records of all decisions made on your behalf. Some decisions could include recommending a guardian for dependents or minor children and financial decisions. They could also make decisions about healthcare.

If you allow your power of attorney the authority to stop, give, or withhold medical treatment, you can leave instructions on which services you want and don’t want, when to stop life-saving measures, and when to cease specific treatments.

It’s devastating to lose a loved one, and the last thing anyone wants to do is handle their affairs. However, you must ensure property and assets go to the right people, and everyone follows their final wishes.

The first thing you should do when your loved one passes away is to request a copy of a legal pronouncement of death. You should also notify close friends and family of their death. If necessary, arrange for the supervision of dependents or minor children. You’ll also be able to find instructions on how to move forward with their plans from their will or trust.

A trust is a document that places your assets into a trust fund to transfer to a beneficiary upon your death. Most people will create a trust to speed up the process of settling their estate. You can also protect your assets, reduce taxes, and prevent probate.

With a trust, you’re not only able to control who your assets go to but also how the money gets disbursed. This is especially beneficial if the person you’re leaving money to doesn’t know how to save and spend properly. You can create a payment schedule with a specified amount paid to them on a weekly or monthly basis, rather than as a lump sum.

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What Our Clients Say

"I recently had the occasion to hire Mr. Staubus for a hotly contested Guardianship matter. Mr. Staubus brought a rare combination of effectiveness, reasonableness and understanding of the human element involved. Mr. Staubus handled all things in a calm, highly competent, effective and reasonable way. It could not have been as easy as he made it seem. He's a credit to the Bar."


"Before retaining the guidance of the Staubus & Randall firm, I was at my wit's end trying to close an uncle's estate as a co-executor. In addition to dealing with difficult heirs, I had other pressing business issues coming up immediately on estate land in the middle of the Eagleford Shale including dealings with pipeline, seismic, oil & gas, and construction companies. The local bank also refused to give me access to information relating to the estate. This quickly became the most stressful and desperate time in my life...and then I found Joseph Legere who truly became my guardian angel. He was able to get all issues resolved efficiently and the estate fully closed. His professionalism, immense legal knowledge on a wide variety of topics, and amazing communication skills took the burdens off of me and quickly got closure. I am forever indebted to this firm for giving me my life back."


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"Keith Staubus and Julie Blankenship and their team represented me in a jury trial in the probate court where the ownership of the business which I had worked hard to build was at stake. They successfully fought to preserve my business and my professional reputation, working masterfully to gain the support of the jury. I would not hesitate to hire them again in any bet-the-company litigation.”


"I have required legal representation twice in my life in two separate will contests. Both times I sought assistance from Keith Staubus and Staubus/Randall. Their service, approach, and determination to obtain results exceeded the other attorneys in each case. Mr. Staubus has always come across as genuine while being direct. He gets the process done in a timely manner with results. I will certainly use him again when and if any new challenges arise.”


"After my husband's death, I was devastated by having to defend against a vicious dispute over my husband's estate. Julie Blankenship and Keith Staubus made me feel very comfortable in this distressing situation. They were very tough and did an excellent job for me in obtaining a summary judgment in my favor without a full jury trial. I was glad to have them and Diane Walker in my corner to help me achieve an excellent result - I won! If I ever had to go back to probate court, I would hire them again.” - (will and trust construction case)


"If you need intervention for someone you love but don't know where to turn or who to turn to, Julie Blankenship and Keith Staubus helped me through the most difficult and stressful time in my life with a much loved family member. I now believe that good will triumph over evil. They fought for what was right, and good prevailed." (contested guardianship and will contest)


"As a professional money manager, I have used Ryan Randall's estate planning services both personally and for my clients. Ryan has exhibited three critical attributes in his work with me: (1) high intellectual capacity, (2) exceptional thoroughness, and (3) a total commitment to integrity. In today's litigious world, it can be quite costly not to "get things done right.” An added bonus to us was that we found one of the nicest people we could imagine.”


"I was represented by Keith Staubus as an income beneficiary in a lawsuit with the trustee of a family trust. Utilizing the expertise of a forensic accountant and his own trust expertise, Keith was able to negotiate a judicial modification of the trust providing for the buyout of my income interest for a substantial lump sum payment out of the trust, resulting in a win-win situation for all of the parties. I highly recommend Staubus/Randall for any trust disputes and trust modification actions."


"I have been a wealth management specialist and retirement plan consultant with the Dallas/Fort Worth financial community for over 20 years. I have engaged Ryan Randall to work with a number of my best clients over the years, including business owners, professionals and families. My clients always appreciate Ryan’s straightforward approach to estate planning, asset protection planning and business succession planning. He makes even the most sophisticated estate planning strategies understandable."


What planning we can sue for?

When a loved one dies, and the execution of their estate plan begins, many disputes can arise among family members. Despite the decedent's creation of a good estate plan, problems can occur if a power of attorney doesn’t perform their duties or someone’s unhappy with the division and distribution of assets.

The most common disputes estate lawyers see include:

Bad fiduciary selection

A majority of disputes arise when the power of attorney, executor, or trustee doesn’t correctly perform their duties when their loved one dies. That failure is called a breach of fiduciary duty. Common breaches include:

  • Failure to file tax returns
  • Using assets for personal benefit
  • Failure to provide tax and accounting information to beneficiaries
  • Dividing and distributing assets improperly

To avoid these issues, you should ensure your loved one chooses the right fiduciary during the process of planning their estate. Careful selection can ensure there’s no breach of duty, and they act in the deceased’s best interest.

Will or Trust Contest

When someone contests a trust or will, it’s either because they don’t think it’s legally valid or believe someone influenced the creator into making decisions they didn’t want to make.

To be legal, the creator of the will must sign under specific circumstances and in a particular manner. In Texas, the person must meet the following requirements:

  • Be at least 18 years of age;
  • Be of sound mind, meaning they’re able to make decisions and understand the consequences of a will;
  • Sign the will themselves;
  • Signature of at least two witnesses; and
  • List at least one beneficiary.

Improper execution of a will is less common than undue influence. Many will argue that the creator of the trust or will made their decisions because of another party. The person accused of undue influence could be a friend, caregiver, professional advisor, or family member.

Distribution of property

Sometimes conflicts will arise when the creator of a will or trust intends to leave someone their property but dies before they can change their estate plan to reflect that decision. Other instances create conflicts when beneficiaries believe the distribution of property is unfair or inequitable.

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How should I handle estate law disputes?

If you come across the disputes listed above or any other types of disputes, there are options for resolving them. The remedy you choose will depend on the particular conflict and the people involved.

  • Remove the executor: If there’s a problem with the executor of the estate, you might need to replace or remove them. Finding a replacement can be difficult, especially finding one that all parties are happy with. However, it’s the best decision to ensure everyone is satisfied with how the estate gets handled. The best choice would be a neutral third party who doesn’t hold any biases.
  • Litigation: To litigate a dispute, you must be an inheritor and have sufficient grounds for pursuing a lawsuit. Most people will litigate if they believe there was an improper distribution of the property or suffered a financial loss because someone mismanaged the estate.
  • Mediation: This is the best option for individuals who want to settle the issues amicably, timely, and inexpensively. Mediations usually bring about quick results and cost less than litigation. You also have complete control over the outcome because there isn’t a judge or jury involved.

The Firm

The attorneys at Staubus and Randall have over 100 years of combined experience in estate planning, probate, and litigation. We have the knowledge and skills to tackle complex legal issues, such as guardianships, will contests, fiduciary litigation, and trust litigation. We can also handle routine matters, such as estate administration, probating wills, heirship determinations, and other probate court matters.

Staubus and Randall received a preeminent AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating possible from a peer-rated legal service. This rating recognizes our hard work, dedication, and the case results we’re able to achieve.

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