Bette Epstein, Esq.

Profile

Bette Epstein, Esq. has been mediating trust and estate disputes since 2000. Following a remarkable career as a litigator for over 30 years, she turned her focus to alternative dispute resolution 16 years ago and has been helping parties settle their disputes ever since. She is now available as a full-time mediator and discovery referee.

Ms. Epstein is highly regarded as one of the Bay Area’s leading probate specialists. She spent the last 28 years of her litigation career handling trust and estate disputes, contested conservatorships, elder abuse claims, and serving as an expert witness in conservatorship, trust & estate litigation proceedings. As an associate and partner at Crosby Heafey Roach & May (now Reed Smith), she was responsible for building up its trust and estate litigation practice, and eventually went on to become a managing partner of its Oakland office in 2007.

Areas of Specialization

  • Breach of Fiduciary Duty
  • Contested Conservatorships
  • Financial Elder Abuse
  • Trust and Estate Accounting Disputes
  • Real Property Transfers
  • Trust Contests
  • Trust Administration Disputes
  • Will Contests

Legal Experience

  • Reed Smith
    • Partner, Senior Counsel 2003-2015
    • Managing Partner, Oakland Office 2007-2012
  • Crosby Heafey Roach & May
    • Shareholder, Director 1993-2002
    • Associate Attorney 1986-1992

Professional Experience

  • Clinic for Adults and Children
    • Licensed Psychotherapist, Director of Geriatric Counseling 1979-1983

Education

  • University of San Francisco, J.D. with honors, 1986
  • California State University at Hayward, M.S. Counseling – 1979
  • University of Southern California, B.S. Psychology – 1965

Mediation Training

  • Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution, Pepperdine University – 2013
  • Appellate Mediation, Richard Birke and Dana Curtis – 2001
  • Advanced Mediation, John Paul Jones Group – 2001
  • Comprehensive Mediation, John Paul Jones Group – 1999

Professional Recognition

  • AV Preeminent Rating, Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Ratings, 1996-Present
  • Fellow, American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (ACTEC), 2002-Present
  • Top 100 Super Lawyers in Northern California, 2010-2012
  • Northern California Super Lawyer, 2004-2016
  • Woman of Distinction, San Francisco Business Times, 2009
  • Best Lawyers in America, 2009
  • Woman of Distinction, East Bay Business Times, 2008

Publications

  • Continuing Education of the Bar Action Guide, Co-Editor for all 7 editions
    Capacity and Undue Influence: Assessing, Challenging and Defending 1999-2014
  • Aspatore Books, Contributor
    Best Practices for Structuring Trusts and Estates 2014

Speaking Engagements

Ms. Epstein is a frequent lecturer at the University of San Francisco, School of Law and Golden Gate University Law School on the subject of legal ethics, and a frequent MCLE presenter on the topic of mediating trust and estate disputes.

Representative Cases

Breach of Fiduciary Duty

  • Matter involving trustee of a $12 million trust against claims of breach of fiduciary duty, self-dealing, removal and multiple accounting disputes
  • Handled case involving five siblings as beneficiaries of a trust including claims of breach of fiduciary duty, undue influence and elder abuse against family member trustee, resulting in settlement benefitting beneficiaries of more than $600,000
  • Handled case involving bank in its capacity as special co-trustee against allegations of breach of fiduciary duty and surcharge in court trial resulting in motion for judgment granted at end of petitioners’ case
  • Case involving wife trustee against claims by husband for breach of fiduciary duty, elder abuse and failure to account; trustee provided eight-year accounting resulting in no surcharge against wife
  • Family member filed claims against her sibling for breach of fiduciary duty in his capacity as trustee, power of attorney and health care agent resulting in his removal as trustee, revocation of power of attorney and appointment of professional fiduciary as successor trustee
  • Case involving breach of fiduciary duty by trustee of family trust related to alleged mis-management of trust assets and failure to account

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Contested Conservatorships

  • Represented adult children of elderly father who was being physically neglected by their mother in seeking the appointment of a conservator to manage his care. Mother adamantly opposed conservatorship but professional fiduciary was appointed conservator.
  • Represented adult children whose mother had dementia, was a hoarder and was being unduly influenced by another child resulting in that child receiving millions of dollars of assets; successfully brought petition for the appointment of a professional fiduciary as conservator.
  • Represented Petitioner Mother seeking CA conservatorship of developmentally disabled son whose father would not return him to CA after what was to be a 3- week visit with his father in Illinois with issue of jurisdiction the primary dispute.
  • Represented Petitioner daughter seeking CA conservatorship of elderly, demented mother who visited from Texas and was found to be neglected by other daughter. Issue of jurisdiction was primary dispute.
  • Contested conservatorship matters including the proposed conservatee’s objection to being conserved and competing petitions for the appointment of a conservator; resulted in alternative arrangements made to oversee care and protect proposed conservatee’s assets
  • Contested conservatorship matter among family members that primarily involve where the conservatee would reside and a visiting schedule among family members.
  • Handled case involving a professional fiduciary as conservator of the person and estate of an elderly man who was not able to receive appropriate care in his home due to the conflict between his children and his wife/their mother so had to be moved to a care facility

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Financial Elder Abuse

  • Handled case involving siblings as beneficiaries of a trust including claims of breach of fiduciary duty, undue influence and elder abuse against family member trustee
  • Handled case involving a professional fiduciary as conservator of the person and estate of an elderly man who was not able to receive appropriate care in his home due to the conflict between his children and his wife/their mother so had to be moved to a care facility
  • Handled case involving undue influence claims by claimant whose brother was found by a jury to have wrongfully received $1.7 million from their mother; court awarded $700,000 in attorneys’ fees
  • Case involving wife trustee against claims by husband for breach of fiduciary duty, elder abuse and failure to account; trustee provided eight-year accounting resulting in no surcharge against wife
  • Dispute involving conversion of elder’s funds during last years of his life

Probate Disputes

  • Numerous disputes among family members regarding probate accounting and distribution matters, including removal, issues of failure to account, self- dealing, imprudent investments, conversion of trust assets by the trustee and surcharge claim
  • Trust and estate disputes among family members and beneficiaries regarding the inventory and distribution of tangible personal property
  • Trust and estate disputes among beneficiaries that primarily involved payment of attorney’s fees and costs relative to the administration of the estate
  • Dispute between executor and beneficiaries involving executor’s claims for reimbursement for maintenance of real property

Trust Contests

  • Dispute regarding elderly surviving spouse against claims by her step-children seeking to invalidate end-of-life estate planning changes made by her husband that were to her benefit. Settlement reached the day of trial
  • Handled case involving beneficiary who wanted the right to purchase the multi- million dollar family home from estate, which was strongly opposed by other beneficiaries who wanted the home sold to a third party
  • Handled case involving Decedent’s daughter in dispute with his surviving spouse (2nd wife) over the interpretation of trust instrument and claims of lack of capacity and undue influence
  • Dispute regarding interpretation of trust instrument relative to method for satisfying disputed specific bequest to surviving spouse
  • Dispute contesting the validity of trust amendment based on undue influence and lack of testamentary capacity

Trust Administration

  • Handled case involving family member trustee in trust administration dispute involving multiple pieces of real property and claims by sibling beneficiary of breach of fiduciary duty, self-dealing and failure to account; resolved through mediation with non pro-rata distribution and no surcharge against beneficiary
  • Dispute involving adult children as co-administrators of their father’s probate estate against claims by their decedent’s second wife for family allowance and intestate share despite dissolution proceedings pending at time of decedent’s sudden death
  • Dispute involving trustee in the administration of a trust with $1 billion in assets and involved multiple creditor claims by third parties and family member beneficiaries
  • Handled case regarding petition for instructions by trustee to retain reserve of $12 million in the event of an IRS audit after a closing letter had already been issued; court trial resulted in order that trustee retain $20,000 in reserve to complete trust administration
  • Numerous disputes among family members regarding the disposition of the family home including issues of interpretation of estate planning instruments, valuation relative to buying out the interests of other family members and terms under which the home would be listed for sale
  • Trust administration dispute involving multiple pieces of real property and claim of violation of the no-contest clause in the trust instrument
  • Trust administration involving an art collection that had been maintained in storage for many years with no agreement as to its disposition
  • Dispute related to the administration of Exemption and Marital Trusts for the benefit of the surviving spouse and issues related to discretionary distributions of principal
  • Trust administration matter involving a ranch property held in an LLC with multiple members who were unable to agree on the management of it and/or disposition
  • Trust administration involving the use of the family vacation home in the Sierras by three generations of family members
  • Dispute involving the administration of a special needs trust
  • Numerous disputes based on Probate Code Section 850 involving claims that 3rd party or family member was withholding trust assets, including claims for Section 859 damages and attorneys’ fees
  • Dispute involving a professional fiduciary serving as trustee of court- supervised trust that involved sales of multi-million dollar properties
  • Dispute involving a professional fiduciary serving as administrator of an estate that included assets held off shore by a foreign corporation, claims of theft by family members and the sale of a multi-million dollar property
  • Matter involving trustee of a $12 million trust against claims of breach of fiduciary duty, self-dealing, removal and multiple accounting disputes

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Will Contests

  • Handled dispute over validity of a Will including claims of undue influence and lack of testamentary capacity
  • Handled dispute related to claim by pretermitted heir (daughter) for her intestate share
  • Handled dispute related to claim by pretermitted spouse for her intestate share
  • Dispute regarding interpretation of the Will that had contradictory provisions

Discovery

  • Addressed matters involving motions to compel production of documents, motion to compel attendance at deposition, motions to quash subpoenas, requests for sanctions