Usually, each party bears their own litigation costs; however, in Trust litigation, the Courts have discretion to force a losing party to pay the prevailing party attorney fees if the litigation was deemed in bad faith. Though the Courts have traditionally shied away from doing so, Bruno v. Hopkins signals a change in that trend. Moreover, the case highlights that the Probate Court can shift fees even if they exceed the party’s share of assets the trust [Bruno v. Hopkins, 79 Cal. App. 5th 801, 294 Cal. Rptr. 3d 852 (2022)].
In Bruno, the Petitioner argues the Trust was a forgery and challenge her own mother’s position as Trustee. Petitioner furthermore used the services of an Expert Witness to reinforce her claims’ merit. The Court did not agree, and held the Petitioner’s claims came in bad faith. The Court also held that it is unreasonable to rely on an expert’s conclusion when reliance on said expert testimony was also unreasonable. Id., at 874.
The Court awarded $925,000.00 to the prevailing party, over four times the amount the Petitioner was to receive as a beneficiary.
The Court’s power to enforces this comes from their vast equitable power to award attorney fees against the losing party
Clients and Attorneys should both be aware that using an expert to support your claim will not necessarily shield you from court awarded attorney fees. If your litigation is deemed to have been brought in bad faith, you may be still be paying attorney fees to the other side even if you relied on an expert’s opinion to bring your claim.