CALIFORNIA TRUSTS AND ESTATES: PROBATE COURT MAY AWARD ATTORNEYS FEES TO A PARTY WHOSE EFFORTS HAVE RESULTED IN A SUBSTANTIAL BENEFIT TO THE TRUST BENEFICIARIES.


New Case: Smith v. Szeyller (January 16, 2019) The Court of Appeal affirmed. Under the substantial benefit doctrine, a trial court may award fees to be shared by others upon whom a benefit was conferred, when a litigant, proceeding in a representative capacity, obtains a decision that results in a substantial benefit to all beneficiaries. “Trust beneficiaries must generally pay their own attorney’s fees incurred challenging a trustee’s conduct, even if they succeed. (Leader v. Cords (2010) 182 Cal.App.4th 1588, 1595; Code Civ. Proc., § 1021.) But under the substantial benefit exception, the trial court may exercise its “equitable discretion . . . [to] determine[] whether the interests of justice require those who received a benefit to contribute to the legal expenses of thosewho secured the benefit.” (Pipefitters Local No. 636 Defined Benefit Plan v. Oakley, Inc., supra, 180 Cal.App.4th at p. 1547.) The doctrine is an “outgrowth” of the common fund doctrine. (Serrano v. Priest (1977) 20 Cal.3d 25, 38.) No published decision applies the substantial benefit doctrine in the probate context, “but it plainly would apply, for example, . . . to an action to remove a trustee who has breached the trust or to a petition to compel an accounting.” (Hartog & Kovar, Matthew Bender Practice Guide: Cal. Trust Litigation (2018) 15.32[2].)

Complimentary Case Assessment


Fill out the form below for a complimentary consultation:

* Required fields.

BY SUBMITTING THIS FORM I AM STATING THAT I HAVE READ & AGREE WITH THE DISCLAIMER »

DISCLAIMER: The content of this website is intended to convey general information to facilitate recognition of possible legal issues affecting your life. The content of this website is not personal legal advise and should not be relied upon. For legal guidance concerning your individual matter, it is essential for you to consult with an attorney to discuss your objectives, your specific situation and applicable California Law.

Communication with this law office through the web-site does not establish an attorney-client relationship, does not create an agreement for this law office to represent you nor does it express a guarantee of any result in your matter. This law office is under no obligation to render services to you or otherwise investigate your matter for you. Confidential and personal information should not be sent through this web-site.

Further, information provided through this web-site is not confidential and may be disclosed. It is also important for you to know that every legal matter has deadlines. Failure to meet those deadlines may have severe financial or other consequences and can cause you to lose your rights to pursue or defend your matter in court. Because there may be critical deadlines in your matter, you should take steps to immediately consult with an attorney to obtain specific legal advise regarding your case.