Dispute Resolution

As society becomes more litigious, laws get more complicated. The laws surrounding the distribution of trusts and estates are no exception to this rule. Troutman Sanders attorneys often assist individual or corporate clients with their efforts to resolve estate- or trust-related disputes without stepping foot into a courtroom. From intra-family disputes and disputes with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), to guardianship proceeding and modification of trusts, we utilize our experience with probate and surrogate courts to develop solutions to our clients’ most contentious complaints, conflicts of interest, and will and trust contests

We advise clients in numerous areas of dispute resolution, including the following:

Non-Judicial Settlement Agreements

Some states allow trustees and beneficiaries, if in agreement, to modify irrevocable trusts without going to court. We draft such agreements in compliance with the relevant state law.

Trust Modification or Termination Proceedings

Trustees or beneficiaries can petition a court to modify or terminate a trust, and we represent individual or corporate fiduciary clients in court to obtain the client’s desired outcome.

Family Disputes

Families are sometimes unable to resolve disputes that arise in regard to aspects of their wealth and its proper management or distribution. Such disagreements can occur within or outside the context of a trust or estate administration. Should these disputes rise to the level of litigation, even if the owner of the assets has not passed away, we can help the client manage the situation or represent them in court.


Decanting refers to the transfer of assets from one trust to another, which has the effect of changing the terms of the use of trust assets, even if the trust is irrevocable. Whether or not decanting is available for any particular trust depends upon the terms of the trust and state law. Troutman Sanders attorneys review trusts to determine if decanting is available, and draft the new trusts to which the assets are “decanted.”

Will and Trust Construction/Aid and Guidance Proceedings

If the trust instrument is unclear, or there is (or could be) a disagreement between beneficiaries or between beneficiaries and the trustee, we can petition the court for construction of terms or other guidance. Through this process, we can put the matter to rest without opening up the trustee to liability for its actions.

Will/Trust Contests

We represent defendants and plaintiffs regarding the validity of wills or trusts based on incapacity, undue influence, or other legal bases for invalidating a will or trust.

Substitution of Fiduciary Proceedings

If a trust or estate is subject to court supervision or does not provide for successor or substitute trustees, we can petition the court on behalf of trustees or beneficiaries seeking to change trustees. Such actions can include suits on behalf of trustees to defend against trustee removal, or petitions for removal for cause on behalf of beneficiary.

Guardianship Proceedings

There are many situations where a guardian of a person or their property may be needed or desired. A parent of an adult disabled child may desire continued management of the child’s property and benefits. A minor child may inherit assets outright that cannot be reached and managed without a court-appointed guardianship. An incapacitated parent who has not executed a power of attorney may need a court-appointed guardian. We regularly advise clients in this area of law, assisting with simple and disputed guardianship proceedings.

Litigation on Behalf of Beneficiaries

Beneficiaries may need our assistance to protect their rights with respect to a trust or estate. This may begin with requesting copies of trusts from a trustee and proper accounting, but could lead to litigation against a trustee regarding proper management and distribution of a trust.

Litigation on Behalf of Trustees/Executors

We represent corporate and individual trustees and executors with respect to all legal issues that may arise and can be resolved through the courts.

Tax Audits and Appeals

Regardless of whether we have prepared the estate or gift tax return, we can represent clients before the IRS on gift and estate tax audits and appeals.

IRS Private Letter Rulings

Occasionally a client will want to request the option of the IRS before completing a transaction, or request relief from the IRS for an action in the past that has not yet been brought to IRS attention. For these purposes and others, we file for private letter rulings on behalf of our clients.