Creative Representation | Expert Litigation

Areas of Trust and Estate Litigation Practice

Bartko attorneys have successfully litigated over 50 trust and estate cases, including law and motion, discovery, trial, and appeal. We have brought or defended matters on behalf of charities and educational institutions, winning verdicts and settlements by which charities received more than $20 million. We have also defended individuals and trustees against estate and trust claims, including two recent trial victories where we obtained defense verdicts against claims of $680 million and $250 million.

Representative Trust and Estate Clients

  • American Cancer Society
  • American Heart Association
  • University of California
  • University of San Francisco
  • Shriner's Hospital
  • Sutter Health
  • Various Individuals

In addition, we represent charities in connection with the filing of many Declarations of Interest under Probate Code Section 17200(b)(4) to ascertain beneficiaries under a will or trust. These Declarations are often the first step where a will or trust references a charitable beneficiary, but uses a name different than the charity’s full, legal name.

Relevant Trust and Estate Articles - by Benjamin K. Riley

Saving the Japanese YWCA Building

Ben Riley published an article in the November 15, 2019 issue of the Daily Journal about Saving the Japanese YWCA building – a pro bono case in which he represented the Japanese-American community of San Francisco.

Representative Cases

Francesca Naify Trust

(San Francisco). Represented the co-trustees in five-week trial concerning alleged underfunding of community property by the late Robert Naify at the time of his wife’s death. Petitioner sought $680 million of damages relating to alleged community stock, real property, retirement accounts, and other assets under Probate Code section 850. In February 2023, the court entered its Statement of Decision and Judgment in favor of our clients, rejecting all claims. Petitioner agreed not to appeal.

Robert A. Naify Trust

(San Francisco). Represented the co-trustees in three-week trial concerning alleged oral promises of inheritance by Robert Naify to his step-daughter. Petitioner sought approximately $250 million, alleging that she was entitled to be treated as a biological daughter under the trust and should receive decedent’s golf course in Spain. In its June 2021 Statement of Decision, the Court rejected all of petitioner’s claims, and later entered Judgment for the co-trustees. Appeal filed then subsequently dismissed.

Estate of Jack Dane

(San Francisco). Represent a beneficiary under a trust who allegedly was omitted by amendment based on cross-outs and initials on a copy of the trust instrument. Successful settlement.

Lucille M. Feeney Trust

(San Francisco). Represented co-trustees in connection with option by sister to purchase residential property. Dispute successfully resolved and option cleared prior to litigation through negotiation and a pre-filing mediation.

Donald A. Carlson Trust

(San Mateo). Represented charity in a dispute involving a trust with $13.5 million in assets. The Trust provided that “an amount equal to the settlor’s available federal estate tax exemption” shall be distributed to family members with the remainder to three charities. Trustor died in October 2010 when there was no federal estate tax, but Congress enacted a $5 million exemption in December 2010 as to which the trustee/executor could file an election not to pay tax. Family argued that under these facts Trustor would have intended that all assets be distributed to them. Trial court held that there was no ambiguity in the Trust and that the family members should receive the $5 million exemption amount, with the remaining $8.5 million to be distributed to the charities. Resolved during appeal.

In Re Alldaffer Family Trust

(San Mateo). Successfully represented a beneficiary of a family trust in connection with a petition filed by another beneficiary that sought to cancel our client’s life estate in and immediately liquidate the real property owned by the Trust. The petition was dismissed.

Anonymous Family Trust

(Marin). Negotiated and resolved a dispute between a trustee and beneficiary of a family trust, prior to litigation, that required the trust to make regular distributions to a beneficiary for a period of years.

Conservatorships of Eilers and Proctor

(Marin and Kern). Obtained settlements totaling $2.1 million for charities. Children of donors had petitioned to be appointed Conservator and then to obtain court approval of new wills and trusts under the Substituted Judgment statute, thereby substantially increasing the gifts to the family and decreasing or eliminating the gifts to charities. Case settled with the bulk of the assets passing to the charities.

In Re Estate of Norred.

Investigated theft of approximately $150,000 from the trust, most likely by attorney for the trustees. After discovery and several contempt hearings, obtained copy of a cancelled check tracing the money to the attorney’s trust account. Since the attorney was already the subject of multiple investigations by the State Bar, the charity decided not to pursue him in litigation. However, we submitted an application to the State Bar Trust Fund and obtained the maximum payment of $50,000.

Estate of Evelyn R. Press

(San Francisco). Obtained $3 million for University of San Francisco two days prior to trial in will contest challenging a will in favor of cousin on grounds of undue influence and lack of testamentary capacity.

Dorothy Barnett Trust

(Stanislaus). Recovered $1.3 million two weeks prior to trial in case involving claim that decedent allegedly intended to change the beneficiary of her trust from the charities to her grandchildren.

Estate of Naomie King

(Contra Costa). Represented University of California and three other charities in two-day court trial involving claims of a fraudulently destroyed will. Won trial and appeal, and obtained $2.5 million in real property for clients.

Estate of Nettie Farrell

(Alameda). Recovered $1.175 million for charities two weeks before trial in case involving undue influence and PC Section 21350 issues raised by claims of intestate heirs, caregiver with subsequent will, and neighbor with subsequent will contract.

Estate of Lindsay White-Ross

(Contra Costa). Obtained $950,000 after mediation on behalf of four charities in a challenge by intestate heirs to will that bore the words “Void” where no subsequent will could be located.

Estate of Charlotte White

(Riverside). Recovered $210,000 in will contest challenging competency of testator to make two subsequent will codicils in favor of niece and caretaker.

Estate of Helene M. Flynn

(Marin). Obtained recovery of $550,000 immediately prior to trial for five charities based on a lost holographic will proved by a carbon paper copy found in closet, and then challenged by intestate heirs.