Trust & Estate Litigation

Marrs Ellis & Hodge LLP has successfully represented a variety of parties involved in trust and estate litigation matters. Our attorneys have had success representing clients—from individual will beneficiaries to billion-dollar financial institutions—in complex and high-profile disputes involving trusts, will contests, estates, and guardianships.

The settling of a decedent’s financial affairs—a process often called “probating the estate”—takes place in county courts with specialized jurisdiction. Few areas of the law generate more bitter disputes than those involving a deceased or incapacitated relative—or involving a trustee’s breach of fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries of a trust. To advance a client’s interests, the attorneys involved must be familiar with the nuances of the law governing wills, estates, trusts, and guardianships as well as the local probate court’s procedures.

Our attorneys have great depth of experience in the estate, trust, and guardianship arenas and have appeared in probate courts and courts of appeals throughout Texas, amassing a record of success for our clients.

Probate Litigation Matters

Probate is the legal process of paying the final debts of a deceased individual and distributing that person’s assets to his heirs. If a person dies without a will, the distribution of assets is dictated by the Texas laws of intestacy. If the person had a will, the personal representative or executor administers the probate estate according to the terms of the will, subject to state probate laws. Probate Courts are highly nuanced; for example, the local rules of Harris County, Fort Bend County, Montgomery County, Waller County, Galveston County, Brazoria County, and Matagorda County Courts will all have slightly different procedures, despite all being Houston-area jurisdictions.

Various disputes can arise during the probate process. Probate litigation occurs when an interested party raises a dispute or files a claim in an estate proceeding. The probate court also handles guardianships.

Examples of probate or estate litigation matters include, but are not limited to:

  • Will Contests
  • Will Distribution Claims
  • Executor Fee Claims
  • Estate Accounting
  • Retirement and Life Insurance Claims
  • Executor Misconduct
  • Testamentary Trusts
  • Personal Representative Appointments
  • Formal Accountings
  • Guardianship Disputes
  • Breach of Fiduciary Duty
  • Beneficiary and Heir Disputes
  • Surviving Spouse Election and Family Allowance

Many probate matters can be settled without a lengthy and costly trial. However, when parties are unable to agree preparing for trial to a judge or jury may be the best option.

Trust Litigation Matters

A trust generally involves three parties: the settlor, trustee, and beneficiary. Trusts may be used for a variety of reasons and are common estate and asset-planning tools. Unfortunately, disputes may arise related to the terms of the trust or the administration of the trust. When parties cannot resolve the dispute between themselves, trust litigation may be necessary to resolve the dispute.

Trust lawsuits may arise from one or more situations such as:

  • Trustee Misconduct or Removal
  • Trust Accounting
  • Trust Distributions
  • Breach of Fiduciary Duty
  • Disputes Related to the Administration of the Trust
  • Disagreements Regarding the Terms of the Trust
  • A Trust Agreement Contains Contradictory, Unclear, or Confusing Language
  • The Settlor Did Not Have the Legal Capacity or Was Unduly Influenced When Creating the Trust
  • Trustee Removal or Replacement
  • Force Distributions from the Trust
  • Trust Termination or Trust Modification

Filing a trust lawsuit is usually the last resort when a dispute arises. However, we are experienced trial attorneys who do not hesitate to take a matter to trial if that is the best way to protect our client’s interests.


Representative Cases

In Re Estate of J.B. Wells, Jr., Deceased (2021) (Gonzales County)

Joe Marrs, Zev Kusin, and Luke Ellis represented an Austin non-profit in vindicating a decedent’s charitable bequest of land in his will.

[Names Confidential on Request] (2020) (Harris County)

Joe Marrs, Vaibhavi Parmar, and Zev Kusin represented a trustee and executor in defending claims to a multi-million dollar trust. After a trial conducted entirely via video conference (due to COVID-19), the firm secured a take-nothing ruling in the client’s favor.

[Names Confidential on Request] (2020) (Travis County)

Joe Marrs and Vaibhavi Parmar represented siblings in a will contest, recovering a substantial estate settlement shortly before trial.

[Names Confidential on Request] (2019) (Harris County)

Joe Marrs and Ashley Croswell represented will beneficiaries in litigation over interpretation of an unusual will concerning the care of pets. The firm secured a final judgment, including attorneys’ fees, for the clients.

[Names Confidential by Request] (2019) (Harris County)

Joe Marrs and Vaibhavi Parmar counseled a national financial institution serving as corporate trustee of a trust valued over $250 million in finalizing a negotiated division of assets, preventing unnecessary litigation for the client.

[Names Confidential on Request] (2018) (Harris County and Aransas County)

Joe Marrs represented the contestant in a will contest involving an eight-figure estate that settled on confidential terms.

[Names Confidential on Request] (2017) (Harris County)

Joe Marrs represented heirs defending an eight-figure estate against claims of a stepmother that settled on confidential terms.

In re Estate of R.E.F., Deceased (2018) (Comal County)

Joe Marrs and Ashley Croswell represented a spouse and daughter in a claim under a decedent’s Will.

In re Estate of L.N.B., Deceased (2014) (Mesa County, Colorado)

Joe Marrs, with the help of local counsel, represented contingent beneficiaries in a petition for appointment of a neutral trustee of a testamentary family trust.

Estate of S.M.P., Deceased (2014) (Travis County)

Joe Marrs represented a fortune 500 financial institution in claims to recover assets and protect its interests in a significant estate dispute. The case resolved on confidential terms.

In re P.F.T. (2013) (Travis County)

No. D-1-GN-13-002061, in the 126th District Court of Travis County, Texas (2013):

Joe Marrs represented trust beneficiaries first in a successful petition to appoint themselves co-trustees, and then against an intervening former trustee who sought to overturn their appointment as successor co-trustees of the trust on various grounds. Following a final judgment, then a second evidentiary hearing on the former trustee’s motion for new trial, the court upheld the judgment in favor of the clients.

Estate of C.W.B., Deceased,

No. 06929, in the County Court of Llano County, Texas (2013):

Joe Marrs represented surviving children as will contestants against a caregiver/will beneficiary, alleging breach of fiduciary duty and lack of testamentary capacity. The case resolved favorably for the firm’s clients, who received a share of the decedent’s Llano County ranch.

Estate of Emma Fuhst West, Deceased;

No. C-1-PB-12-001276, in Probate Court Number One of Travis County, Texas (2013):

Joe Marrs was appointed by the Travis County Probate Court as attorney ad litem representing 70+ heirs in a complex intestate estate.

In Re P.F.T.,

in the 126th District Court of Travis County, Texas (2013):

The firm represented beneficiaries of a trust in claims against a trustee for day-trading and self-dealing, resulting in losses to the trust and damages exceeding $1.4 million. As a result of pre-suit negotiations, the trustee resigned and the firm’s clients obtained a final judgment appointing themselves co-trustees in the Travis County District Court, and successfully defending their appointment on appeal to the Third Court of Appeals.

B.S, C.S., & T.S. v. S.W. & J.K.,

In the 23rd Judicial District Court of Wharton County, Texas (2013):

Represented a partner and trust beneficiary in claims for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and equitable dissolution of a rice farming partnership and termination of a testamentary trust. Closing seven years of litigation, including one failed settlement, the firm negotiated an agreed final judgment that dissolved the partnership, terminated the trust, and divided all assets on terms favorable to its client.

In Re Guardianship of M.A.M., Jr., an Incapacitated Person,

No. C-1-PB-12-001162, in the Probate Court No. 1 of Travis County, Texas (2012):

The Firm represented the family of a proposed ward in a guardianship bench trial.


Estate of F. E. M.,

No. C-1-PB-10-000626, In Probate Court No. 1 of Travis County, Texas:

Joe Marrs represented children defending their father’s will and real estate against a will contest and partnership dispute. The contestant—a friend and business partner of the decedent—offered medical testimony attempting to show the decedent lacked testamentary capacity or was unduly influenced to sign his last will. The contestant also made claims to the decedent’s real estate based upon a written partnership agreement. Shortly before trial, the court granted Mr. Marrs’s plenary motion for summary judgment, dismissing all the contestant’s claims.

State Farm Life Insurance Co. v. M.D.,

No. 09-CA-244 LY, In the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas; Estate of K., Deceased, Cause No. NO. C-1-PB-09-089882, In Probate Court No. 1 of Travis County, Texas:

Joe Marrs represented a surviving wife, who was not a named beneficiary of her deceased husband’s will. Prosecuting claims in probate court and in a parallel federal interpleader action, the client ultimately obtained a share of a life insurance policy, estate assets in kind, and a spousal allowance. The total net recovery for the client in the settlement was $125,000 cash plus estate assets in kind.

C.J.K. v. R.F.,

No. D-1-GN-10-002656, In the 201st District Court, Travis County, Texas:

In a wrongful-death case, Joe Marrs obtained a policy-limits recovery for the five children of an accident victim.

In Re Estate of B.,

Cause No. 360,899, In Probate Court No. 1 of Harris County, Texas:

Representing a proponent at jury trial of a will contest involving an estate of significant assets. The contestant, the decedent’s second wife, alleged that the will was revoked. Joe Marrs obtained a verdict upholding the will and full award of attorney’s fees to the client.