California trust litigation is an expensive and drawn-out process, which makes beneficiaries feel like it is not an option. But this should not deter you from defending your rights. Many people ask, Who pays legal fees in a trust dispute? The answer is not cut and dry, but working with a premier trust litigation attorney will ensure the odds are in your favor.
At Gokal Law Group, our trust litigation lawyers in Orange County have helped beneficiaries navigate trust disputes successfully for years to ensure the opposition foots the bill. Read our blog to learn who pays the legal fees when there is a trust dispute.
Determining Who Pays Trust Dispute Legal Fees?
Several situations can arise that warrant pursuing California trust litigation, and many people ask the same question: Who pays legal fees in a trust dispute?
Ultimately, it depends on the outcome of your case. When pursuing trust litigation in California, the person who loses the case usually is the one who pays the other party’s legal fees. But it can get more complicated.
“No simple answer exists to this question. Many beneficiaries feel at a disadvantage because they may lack the resources to pay legal fees to defend their right and trustees have the right to finance litigation using trust assets. Beneficiaries have two options to level the playing field: they can ‘lock up’ or obtain a court order to make the trust inviolable, or they can include a request in their litigation documents for the trustee to reimburse legal fees.” – Anum Arshad, an Associate at Gokal Law Group with years of experience in California trust law
Who Pays Trustee Legal Fees?
Per California trust law, trustees have the right to use trust assets for necessary expenses when administering the trust, including legal fees. But if the trustee is unsuccessful, the court can order them to reimburse the trust and pay the fees out-of-pocket.
The probate code adds some context:
- California Probate Code 859 states trustees receive attorney fees if a court finds that the defendant they pursued litigation against stole or wrongfully used money or assets belonging to a minor, adult-dependent, trust elder, or conservative.
- California Probate Code 15642(d) states that courts will award trustees legal fees if they find that the beneficiary’s Petition to remove the trustee was made in bad faith and that removing the trustee would go against the grantor’s wishes.
- California Probate Code 17211 allows courts to award attorney fees to the trustee if the court finds that the beneficiary’s contest of the trustee’s account was without reasonable cause and bad faith.
Who Pays Beneficiary Legal Fees?
Most commonly, however, beneficiaries ask: Who pays trust dispute legal fees?? Generally, if a beneficiary pursues California trust litigation against a trustee and wins, the trustee must reimburse them their attorney fees on top of paying damages.
Other probate codes and situations to be aware of include:
- California Probate Code 17211 in some instances, a trustee may be required to prepare an accounting. If a beneficiary contests the accounting, and the court finds that the trustee’s opposition to the contest was without reasonable cause or bad faith, the beneficiary receives legal fees, meaning the trustee will have to pay legal fees in that trust dispute.
- California Probate Code 16061.9(a) states that trustees must notify beneficiaries and heirs when the trust becomes irrevocable and before they make distributions. If they fail to notify the necessary parties and decide to pursue litigation, the trustee will have to pay the fees for the beneficiary’s or heir’s trust litigation lawyer.
- California Probate Code 19255(e) states that when a decedent leaves a trust and the creditors file a claim, the trustee can accept or reject the claim. If rejected, the creditor can file an action in court on that specific claim. If the court determines that the prosecution or defense of the action by the prevailing party was unreasonable, the prevailing party shall be awarded reasonable litigation expenses, including attorney’s fees.
“We recently worked on a case that involved a beneficiary who objected to an accounting, but they made several unnecessary and fraudulent objections. The court determined that paying legal fees from the trust would not be in the best interest of the other beneficiaries. The trustee and beneficiaries received fair and reasonable compensation for their lawyer’s fees because they worked with a California trust litigation attorney to prove the beneficiary’s conduct was unreasonable and malicious.” – Anum Arshad
Find the Best Trust Litigation Lawyers in Orange County
So, who pays legal fees in a trust dispute? Ultimately, this depends on you and your situation. But the surest way to ensure that you don’t pay the legal fees during a trust dispute is by coming out the other end victorious, which is why working with a premier California trust litigation attorney is crucial.