Trusts & Estate Court Practice

Individuals and fiduciaries considering or involved in estate and trust administration disputes can benefit from expert advice and guidance in navigating both the state and federal courts and taxing authorities.  With an emphasis on negotiating advantageous settlements Goodwin’s Trusts + Estate Court Practice team possesses in-depth knowledge of Massachusetts statutes and common law defining the duties and responsibilities of fiduciaries, giving our clients a unique advantage in prosecuting and defending lawsuits involving a fiduciary’s administration of an estate or trust.

  • Court Proceedings: We often recommend targeted and efficient use of the courts to resolve ambiguities and clarify trust terms in order to achieve the goals of the settlor and guide fiduciaries in administering estates and trusts. Although the primary goal is to avoid litigation, we devise effective strategies for clients when litigation does arise.
  • Estate Tax Audits and Tax Litigation: We have extensive experience litigating estate, gift, generation-skipping transfer tax and fiduciary income tax disputes, and we regularly handle estate tax audits on behalf of our clients.


Court Proceedings: We commence actions to protect our fiduciary clients and vigorously defend fiduciaries when breaches of fiduciary duties are alleged. Our fiduciary, tax and accounting expertise enables us to negotiate and craft sophisticated settlements that minimize or avoid the cost of trial and protect our clients from future lawsuits. Services include:

  • Declaratory judgment complaints to approve actions taken by a fiduciary and confirm a fiduciary’s interpretation of an instrument or power
  • Complaints to reform, divide or terminate trusts
  • Petitions for instructions to obtain judicial guidance on administration issues
  • Complaints for the judicial allowance of non-testamentary trust accountings and advising if there are objections to the accounts
  • Defense of lawsuits involving allegations of breach of fiduciary duties and surcharges imposed on a fiduciary
  • Advice on virtual representation issues in connection with court actions and settlement agreements
  • Negotiating and drafting compromise and settlement agreements and obtaining court approval of agreements
  • Implementation of terms of judgments and settlement agreements

Estate Tax Audits and Tax Litigation:

  • Defense of valuation discounts, exclusion of assets for transfer tax purposes and charitable, marital and other deductions
  • Appeal of assessments issued by the Internal Revenue Service and the Massachusetts Department of Revenue
  • Obtaining judgments from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court concerning federal estate tax issues in order to bind the Internal Revenue Service
  • Litigation of estate, gift, generation-skipping transfer tax and fiduciary income tax disputes

Representative Experience: 

  • Securing a judgment from the Supreme Judicial Court reforming the terms of a trust to qualify for the marital deduction
  • Securing a judgment from the probate court terminating the interest of a beneficiary in a trust and approving the trustees’ payment to him of the present value of his share
  • Securing a judgment from the probate court reforming the terms of a trust to qualify as exempt from the generation-skipping tax
  • Successful defense of a trustee against allegations of failure to supervise its co-trustee
  • Dismissal of a claim against a trust made by putative child of the settlor
  • Obtaining a favorable result for the charitable beneficiary of a will where the executor claimed that the decedent had given him all of her property during her life
  • Obtaining a cy pres judgment authorizing a charity to sell real estate it had received as a restricted gift