Many people often wonder, “what am I supposed to do if I think a trustee and/or a personal representative is inappropriately handling a trust and/or estate?” Well, in 1999 the Washington legislature endeavored to provide an answer to that exact questions. Their response was to introduce RCW 11.96a, which is more commonly referred to as TEDRA. TEDRA is an acronym that stands for the Trust and Estate Dispute Resolution Act, and its purpose was to provide a simplified and streamlined the litigation method for trust and estate disputes.
In the state of Washington, TEDRA is utilized for most anything and everything that would be considered estate litigation. The elegance of this method is that it essentially takes the entirety of a normal civil action, but compresses it in to a much shorter time frame. The end result is that when litigating an estate related issue, you will likely have a resolution to the dispute in a matter of months as opposed to years. In theory, TEDRA actions are designed to be resolved during the initial hearing on the matter; in practice however, it normally takes several months, a few hearings, and potentially a trial, but it is still lightning fast in comparison to most civil actions. This can be a godsend to clients that are already distraught over the loss of the loved one whose estate is being contested.
The downside to TEDRA is that in order for it to be so much faster than normal civil actions, it has to condense the entirety of a normal civil action in to a much tighter time frame. What this means is that for your attorney, they will have a lot more work to perform in a much shorter period of time. As such, it is important for clients to understand going in to these matters that they can be quite costly in regard to legal fees. That being said, TEDRA does provide special circumstances through which litigants disputing estate matters may be awarded their attorney’s fees and costs from the corpus of the estate if it can be proven that the dispute was beneficial to the estate; this sometimes may end up in a result of both the person bringing the TEDRA action (petitioner) and the entity defending against the TEDRA action (respondent) being awarded their attorney’s fees from the Court IF they can both prove their part in the dispute ultimately benefited the estate by determining the appropriate method through which it was to be executed.
In practice, TEDRA has provided a much faster method of resolving trust and estate disputes, but its attempt to simplify the process have been somewhat mixed. While many of the “simplifications” made by TEDRA do result in a faster process, they do require an attorney to react in a much more agile manner and to learn an entirely different set of rules of civil procedure. This is the primary reason that anybody that believes they have a TEDRA complaint must be sure to utilize an attorney that is not only experienced in litigation, but is also familiar with the procedures under TEDRA.
Nowakowski Legal PLLC has handled multiple TEDRA matters in the Washington Courts. If you or someone you know feels that an estate or trust is being mishandled, or if you simply have some questions as to how a will or probate should be being executed, do not hesitate to contact our office to schedule a free consultation.