Fiduciary and Probate Litigation

Providing Legal Representation for Fiduciaries and Beneficiaries

One of the legal services we offer at the Law Offices of Joseph E. Seiler is representation and advice for heirs and beneficiaries as well as estate executors, administrators, and trustees.

After a person passes away, their affairs must be settled and their property distributed. For many estates, the probate process requires that a personal representative be appointed by the court to carry out these tasks. If the deceased person named the personal representative in their will, then that person is referred to as the “executor of the estate”. However, if the person did not leave a valid will or did not name a personal representative in his or her will, then the personal representative is referred to as the “administrator of the estate”. If the person passes away intestate, then the individuals who are to receive the property once the estate has been settled are called the heirs. If the person left a valid will, then they are called the beneficiaries. When it comes to trusts, a trustee will generally be named in the trust’s founding document or the court will appoint someone to serve as trustee. The persons who are to benefit from the trust property are called the trust beneficiaries.

Whether a person serves as the representative of an estate or as a trustee of a trust, their relationship with the heirs or beneficiaries is governed by terms of the founding trust document and rules set forth in the Texas Property Code, which define the rights and responsibilities that each side has toward the other. In Texas, the representative of an estate or trustee of trust usually has the right and power to manage the estate property in the manner he or she views as most appropriate, as long as it is reasonable, and does not otherwise violate the law or the terms of the will or founding trust document. However, in an estate administration, even if the personal representative has the power to temporarily manage property while settling the estate, the executor or administrator must ultimately distribute the property to the heirs or beneficiaries. In the case of a trustee, they are often required to distribute portions of trust property, trust income, or both. However, in some cases, depending on how the grantor of the trust structured the founding document, the trustee is not required to make a distribution, but is still required to manage and invest the property for benefit of the trust beneficiaries. 

What is a Fiduciary Duty?

The responsibilities that are owed to heirs and beneficiaries are generally referred to as “fiduciary duties”. Even though they owe these duties, this does not mean they have to take instructions from the beneficiaries. Rather, their instructions come from the terms of the will or trust document and the laws set forth in the Texas estates and property codes. Generally, these fiduciary duties require that the personal representative or trustee refrain from any self-dealing and manage the estate property as would a reasonable and prudent person. Even though executors, administrators, and trustees are generally entitled to take a fee as compensation, they must otherwise place the interests of the beneficiaries above their own.

Legal Actions for Executors, Representatives, and Trustees

Whenever a disagreement arises between a personal representative of an estate, or a trustee, and the beneficiaries of the estate or trust, there are numerous legal actions by which either side can petition a court and ask for a clarification or some other form of relief.  Often, the representative or trustee can prevent a potential conflict from arising in the first place by asking the court for permission to take a contemplated action with regard to the estate or trust. In addition, if the will or trust document becomes impracticable because of evolving circumstances, then the court has the power to modify or terminate those provisions of the will or trust that are no longer feasible.  Below is a list of some of the more common legal action initiated by representatives or trustees.

✧ Petition for permission to take a certain action

✧ Petition for trust modification

✧ Permission for trust termination

✧ Petition for approval of accounting

✧ Petition to close estate

Legal Actions for Heirs and Beneficiaries

Even though the personal representative or trustees may have the right to manage estate property, the heirs and beneficiaries also have rights as well. Generally, when a person passes away, the heirs and beneficiaries will have a right to receive the property that they have inherited once the representative has gathered and inventoried the person’s property, paid the person’s debts with estate funds, and settled his or her affairs. In the trust context, depending on the terms of the trust, beneficiaries may not have the right to receive property immediately, but nevertheless, the trustee must manage and ultimately use the trust property for their benefit. 

Even if the heirs and beneficiaries lack total control over the trust or estate property, they still have rights in the property and can petition a court to enforce those rights. This often becomes necessary when a trustee or estate representative is mismanaging estate property, has stolen from estate property, or is not distributing estate property in accordance with the terms of the will or founding trust document. Some of the more common legal actions by which heirs and beneficiaries can enforce their rights include:

✧ Enforcement Actions (by which a beneficiary requests that a court order the representative or trustee to take or refrain from taking a certain action).

✧ Removal Actions (by which a beneficiary petitions the court to remove the representative or trustee and requests that the court appoint a new one).

✧ Breach of Fiduciary Duty Actions against a personal representative or trustee.

Legal Representation for Fiduciaries, Heirs and Beneficiaries at the Law Offices of Joseph E. Seiler

At the Law Offices of Joseph E. Seiler, we provide legal advice and counsel to fiduciaries, heirs and beneficiaries who need assistance understanding and in carrying out their rights and responsibilities. We provide legal representation to heirs and beneficiaries to help them protect their interests in property and we also provide legal representation to executors, administrators, and beneficiaries and provide them with legal assistance to better enable them to carry out their roles as fiduciaries. 

If you are an heir, beneficiary, or a fiduciary in Northwest Harris County or along the U.S. 290 Corridor including Jersey Village, Cypress, Tomball, Hempstead, or Brenham, Texas and are in need of legal counsel or representation, then please contact the Law Offices of Joseph E. Seiler to schedule a free one-half hour strategy consultation. To schedule your free strategy session, please message us on our contact page or call us at (713) 343-1450.

Law Offices Joseph E. Seiler Northwest Houston
Joseph E. Seiler focuses on helping individuals and families with their probate administration, estate planning, inheritance, and trust law needs. He is affiliiated with several prominent legal organizations, including:

State Bar of Texas

Texas Supreme Court

All Texas Appellate Courts

United State Federal Court for the Southern District of Texas

Houston Bar Association

Northwest Houston Bar Association

You will receive focused personal attention and speak directly with Mr. Seiler. Our attorney communicates promptly with each client, treats them with empathy, and is eager to help them with their legal needs. Through knowledgable and diligent representation, Mr. Seiler works to protect each client’s rights as he guides them through the legal system. To schedule a free consultation with Mr. Seiler, please call (713) 343-1450.

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Phone: (713) 343-1450

Fax: (713) 957-2076

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