Ellen McKissock is a trial lawyer with over 25 years of experience in the local, state and federal courts of California. For about half of that time, her practice has focused on difficult cases involving complex trust and estate litigation, at both the trial and appellate levels. Ellen is the chair of the firm’s Trust and Estate Litigation department.
The depth and range of Ellen’s litigation background is a major plus for Hopkins & Carley’s clients. Ellen has served as lead attorney in many of the state’s largest probate and trust cases, taking some through appeal. She and her team specialize in high-stakes trust, estate, and conservatorship litigation.
“While we hardly rush to the courthouse, we are not daunted by a threat of going to trial. I’ve noticed that opposing counsel seem more open to settle and on more favorable terms when they understand that we are perfectly willing to call their bluff and take a matter to trial.”
She joined Hopkins & Carley in 2002, already a seasoned construction and civil litigator. Before coming to Hopkins & Carley, Ellen worked as outside counsel to the City of Santa Clara’s electric utility during electric deregulation. She also served as special counsel at the law firm of Thelen, Marrin, Johnson & Bridges, negotiating power purchase agreements with Enron, Duke Power and the like.
Why Hopkins & Carley?
“I was attracted by the firm’s commitment to its Family Wealth and Tax Planning practice,” Ellen explained. “Because of the resources available to me at Hopkins & Carley, I’m able to easily get answers to highly technical tax, corporate and other legal questions.
“As a result, I’m confident that I’m not only better prepared, but that my clients save time and money.
“I also like the firm’s collegiality. It’s similar to the amiability of the local probate bar, which is another reason I like what I do.”
A do-gooder at heart
Ellen’s first career plan involved journalism, fueled by the post-Watergate idealism of the time. “Trust and estate litigation is an area of the law where wrongs can be righted,” Ellen said.
“With the graying of our population, many of my cases, I’m sad to say, involve financial elder abuse and other forms of fraud. The growing incidence of blended families, second marriages and the great wealth generated by the dot-com boom has resulted in an increase in families fighting over the passing of wealth. All too often I see children taking advantage of their elderly parents or siblings cheating siblings.”
“My job gives me the opportunity to try to right some of those wrongs.”
- Challenging a marriage after death is nearly impossible. That, however, is exactly what we did, and we won. The case involved a 52-year-old estate-planning attorney who married her 82-year-old client—who was lonely and dying of cancer—after preparing his estate plan and learning he was worth $2 million and that his only family lived in Norway. The man died before his family was able to have the marriage annulled, and the attorney, claiming to be his wife (even though she never lived with him), said she was entitled to half of his estate and sued to claim it. We successfully had the marriage found void on summary judgment. The attorney appealed. We won on appeal. The marriage was held void.
- Our client was an elderly father, suffering from dementia, who was serving as trustee of his trust. His son, who has an aversion to working, had moved in with his father and was having him write him checks. We petitioned the court to remove the father as trustee and replace him with someone who would properly administer the trust in the interests of the father.
- The trustee of a trust was in breach of his fiduciary duty by engaging in self-dealing. It turns out that he had refinanced the family home, taking the equity for himself and spending money in the trust bank accounts. We successfully removed the trustee and installed our client as trustee.
Always up for a challenge
When she’s not working, Ellen is working. That might mean gardening, re-finishing her home’s hardwood floors, starting a charter school or tracing her family’s roots in pre-Revolutionary War Virginia or the missions of California.
“Fortunately, I love research,” she said. “So, if I’m not working on a case, I’m probably in some library, researching my genealogy.”
- He’s in Love With Her! A Mock Trial (Petitioner’s Attorney), (October 2012)
- Confidential Marriage: The Latest Tool for Elder Abuse (March 2012)
- CEB: Practical Problems in Trust Administration (January 2012)
- Matters that Hit the Wallet: A Comprehensive Overview of Attorney’s Fees in Probate (October 2011)
- The Probate Process From Start to Finish (Litigating the Case in Probate Court) (March 2010)
- The Carrot and the Stick – The New No Contest Clause Statute (Fall 2009)
- Almost Everything You Wanted to Know About Nearly Every Statute of Limitations, in an Hour (April 2009, May 2010)
- 3:10 Discoveryville (with Honorable Socrates Manoukian) (October 2007)
- Jurisdiction and Venue in the Probate Court: Where to Fight with Your Family (April 2007)
- Member, Financial Planning Forum, Inc. (Present)
- Fellow, Litigation Counsel of America (2012-Present)
- Trustee, Silicon Valley Bar Association Board of Trustees (2011-Present)
- Executive Committee Chair, Silicon Valley Bar Association (2009-2011)
- Education Subcommittee Chair, Silicon Valley Bar Association (2008-2009)
- Chair, Morgan Hill Library Culture & Arts Commission (2010-2011)
- Commissioner, Morgan Hill Library Culture & Arts Commission (2007-2011)
- Leadership Morgan Hill (2007)
- President, Santa Clara County Bar Assn. Women Lawyers Committee (1996-1997)
- Member, Santa Clara County Bar Assn. Women Lawyers Committee (1990-1997)
- Pro Bono Counsel to Board, Charter School of Morgan Hill (2001-2012)
- Steering Committee Founder, Charter School of Morgan Hill (2000-2001)
- Litigation Counsel of America, inducted (2012)
- YMCA Twin Award, Tribute to Women (2008)
- Appreciation Award, Charter School of Morgan Hill (2001)
- Appreciation Award, Women Lawyer’s Committee (1996)
- A New Use for Confidential Marriage: Elder Abuse, Trust and Estates Quarterly, Vol. 4, Issue 1, Spring 2008