Estate litigation in probate court can sometimes lead to large jury awards. In a recent case in Probate Court No. 1 of Dallas County, Texas, a six-person jury awarded the surviving spouse and heirs of an estate more than $4 billion in punitive damages. This award also included approximately $4.7 million in actual damages. And, the plaintiff was also awarded $5 million in attorney fees in this case, Estate of Max D. Hopper, Deceased, Jo N. Hopper v. JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A., et al.
If you have a question about an estate settlement matter in which you are or were involved, talk it over with an estate litigation attorney at Kilgore & Kilgore. To get the conversation started, click here and submit a request Contact a Kilgore Estate Litigation Attorney. To learn about Kilgore & Kilgore’s estate litigation law practice, click here to go to that website Texas Estate Litigation.
Probate Court Divided Up Hopper’s Estate
Max Hopper, the decedent, was a successful information technology executive. In 2010, he died intestate, without a signed will. In such a case, under Texas law, the community property is divided in half between a surviving spouse and any children of the deceased. During Hopper’s 28-year marriage, he had accumulated over $19 million. In the estate settlement, this amount was divided in half between his surviving spouse and his estate/heirs. Hopper had two children from a prior marriage. Because the assets were undivided at the time of his death, Hopper’s family hired JP Morgan Chase as the independent estate administrator. The estate administration assignment was to collect the assets, pay any debts, and distribute the remaining assets to the beneficiaries.
JP Morgan Chase Botched the Job and Ended up in Probate Court
Among other findings, the jury found that JP Morgan Chase was in breach of its fiduciary duties owed to the surviving spouse and the heirs stemming from its administration of Hopper’s estate and the distribution of assets. According to a press release from the plaintiff’s lawyers, “the bank took years to release basic interests in art, home furnishings, jewelry, and notably, Mr. Hopper’s collection of 6,700 golf putters and 900 bottles of wine.” In addition, according to the press release, “bank representatives failed to meet financial deadlines for the assets under their control.”
This Estate Litigation Case Continues in Probate Court
The probate court has not yet entered judgment in this case. The parties are currently filing post-trial motions. The probate court will be conducting hearings during the first few months of 2018. The family members, on the one hand, will argue that final judgment should be entered for them in accordance with the verdict of the jury. JP Morgan Chase, on the other hand, will argue that the jury findings on liability and damages were improper.
Challenges to an Estate Administration May End up in Probate Court
When someone wants to challenge how an estate was administered, she or he can commence estate litigation with the help of an attorney. Challenges start with basic questions such as whether a will exists or not, and if so, whether the will is valid. Many people establish a will in order to set forth their wishes about how their assets should be distributed upon death. How estate litigation proceeds depends upon the situation. For example, an heir who did not receive an inheritance may want to legally challenge how the estate was distributed, especially if the inheritance went to a person unrelated to the decedent. An estate litigation attorney can help guide the decision about whether or not to pursue estate litigation.
Probate Courts in Texas
Whether a will is present or not, estate administration may take place in probate court. There are three specialized probate courts in Dallas County, Texas, for these kinds of cases. Other Texas counties, such as Harris County, Bexar County, and Travis County have specialized, statutory probate courts.
Trust Litigation Involves Family Trusts Which May Be Outside the Probate Court
Having a family trust is a way of distributing assets of a decedent without going through a probate court. A family trust can help keep the distribution of assets out of the public eye. Trust litigation may involve a challenge to the distribution of assets through a trust. When someone with a trust passes away, a previously appointed trustee takes over management of that trust. The trustee is also responsible for distributing the trust funds according to preferences set forth by the person who set up the trust.
Beneficiaries of a trust may ask a trust litigation attorney to challenge a trustee when the trustee’s actions fall short of legal requirements. There are strict legal obligations known as fiduciary duties for the trustee that sets forth a legal standard for a trustee’s behavior. When those standards are not met, a beneficiary may take legal action.
Kilgore & Kilgore’s Estate Litigation and Trust Litigation Attorneys Can Help
If someone has passed away and you are not satisfied with the administration of the estate or trust, contact Kilgore & Kilgore to sort out the details and see if you have a legal case to pursue. Don’t let the estate administration process throw you off. It’s complicated and takes times to sort out the estate of a decedent. To learn more about Kilgore & Kilgore’s estate litigation and trust litigation practice, click here Texas Estate Litigation. To discuss the facts of your situation with a Kilgore attorney, get the conversation started by clicking this link and submitting a request Contact Kilgore & Kilgore.