Trust & Estate Litigation Appellate Practice
Hopkins & Carley has a group of highly regarded attorneys who handle trust and estate appeals. Our clients include high net worth individuals and wealthy families throughout California, who seek our counsel to navigate the often challenging paths of appeals involving trust and probate actions.
What sets our practice apart from others is that we bring to bear top-notch appellate experience coupled with the highest caliber knowledge of trust and estate litigation. By combining the efforts of trial court litigators possessing the highest level of substantive knowledge of complex probate and trust litigation together with appellate practitioners possessing extensive experience at the highest levels of all reviewing courts we provide an unparalleled combination of form and substance.
Why appellate experience matters
“The appeals court sets a higher bar for attorneys,” noted Ellen McKissock, explaining the value of appellate experience. “The Justices of the Court of Appeals take more time to analyze the evidence and arguments offered in a case. An appellate case is subject to greater scrutiny.”
It takes experience, for example, to understanding the specialized complexities of a writ petition at the appellate level or of submitting or responding to a petition for review by the Supreme Court. Because of their experience, our attorneys excel at appellate briefing and argument, both written and oral.
Our approach to trust and estate appeals
Ellen often teams with Allonn Levy on appellate matters. “My knowledge of trust and estate law gives our clients a head start,” Ellen explained. “Allonn, on the other hand, has years of experience with the highly specialized demands of practicing before the various Courts of Appeal and Supreme Courts. When the two are combined, there’s a synergy that benefits our clients.”
In addition, our trust and estate appellate practice is supported by one of the largest and most experienced trust and estate departments in Northern California, if not the state. “Having access to such a high level of skill and experience saves our clients time and money,” states Allonn Levy. “Successful appellate litigation requires very different form of legal thinking. It helps immensely to have a team that can quickly grasp the facts and law of the underlying case.
- Our attorneys recently prevailed in an appellate case when the opposing attorney tried to appeal an unappealable order from the lower court. “The appealability analysis is particularly tricky in probate cases because probate has its own distinct code sections but also borrows from general civil procedure laws,” said Allonn. “This is just one illustration of the importance of having counsel experienced in both probate and appeals courts,” said Ellen McKissock. “Our motion to dismiss was granted before the other side was able to introduce any substantive issues. Not only did we win, but our ability, experience and understanding of probate law saved our client a lot of money.”
- The trustee of an estate hired us when a neighbor demanded an easement across land held in the trust. We prevailed, arguing that granting such an easement would have destroyed the value of the property. “On appeal, the basic issues at trial involving land rights and private easements were transmuted into constitutional issues of wrongful taking by government agencies. In this instance we faced the challenge of conveying to the Court of Appeal the ever-present underlying constitutional issues while still abiding by the strict rules of appellate practice which normally require attorneys to confine their comments to the narrow legal issues presented at trial.” Ellen explained. “The result was a satisfied client, no loss of property rights to the trust, and the client was even awarded its costs on appeal,” added Allonn.
- In a precedent-setting case, we represented a trust in an appeal dealing with whether distributions from a corporation to the trust should be treated as principal or income, and a cross-appeal addressing whether certain costs already paid by the trust were properly allocated. Because the case involved completely novel issues the Appellate court took the unusual step of publishing the opinion so that others in the field could apply the newly created law. “Although it is rare that reviewing courts publish their opinions, our appellate team has participated in seven such cases; in fact, This is such a new area of the law,” noted Ellen, “that the state legislature and state bar are pushing to change the governing statute.”