Word of caution in trust and estate law!

In re Alice Stedman 1989 Trust 2013 Restatement, No. 2017-0288 (N.H. Aug. 15, 2018).  In this case, a daughter’s attempt to cut her brother out of their mother’s estate backfired and resulted in the daughter having to pay her brother’s attorney’s fees.  Alice Stedman created a trust in 1989.  She named her two children, Stanley Stedman and Claire Donahue, as successor co-trustees following her death.  Alice’s trust directed that the trust estate be distributed equally to Stanley and Claire.  Claire “isolated and unduly influenced” her 93-year old, ailing mother to sign a trust amendment, the 2013 Restatement. The 2013 Amendment significantly reduce Stanley’s share of the trust estate and redistributed his share to Claire.  The 2013 Restatement also excluded Stanley as a trustee.  Stanley challenged the 2013 Amendment and won. Stanley also requested that Claire reimburse his attorney’s fees.  The court ordered Claire to pay approximately $128,000 in attorney’s fees.  In this appeal, Claire challenged the award of attorney’s fees.  The court upheld the award of attorney’s fees concluding that in trust litigation the court has broad discretion to award attorney fees “as justice and equity may require.” This is different from the common law standard in other cases where an award of attorney’s fees may only be justified when a party has acted in bad faith or engaged in oppressive conduct.

If you are facing legal issues involving inheritance, wills or trusts, Sulloway can help.  For more information, contact Sulloway’s Director of Business Development at 603-223-2800.