After your attorney has approved your claim, they will plead it in court. There, you will state your claim, and the estate or trust will have the opportunity to present a defense. A lawsuit may begin when the plaintiff formally files a complaint or petition stating their claims and any potential damages.


Discovery is an important component of most trials, civil or criminal. During the discovery phase of a lawsuit, both sides disclose their evidence to the other party. Discovery can include requests for documents and interrogations of important witnesses, family members, or other concerned parties. Discovery must end 30 days before trial.

Expert witness depositions.

Your attorney may decide that your case can be improved by an expert witness’s testimony. An expert can help a judge or jury reach a better conclusion by providing information that most people would not be able to obtain, access, or evaluate on their own. Expert witness depositions must end 30 days before trial.

In estate and trust litigation, the courts prefer that the involved parties find common ground rather than take the case further. During and after discovery, both sides will try to mediate their cases amicably, without the judge or jury needing to make a determination on their behalf. If mediation fails, the case will move to trial.

The Stages of Estate and Trust Litigation Trials

An estate or a trust trial takes place in a court. These trials typically have four stages:

Opening statements.

In this stage, each party presents the facts of their case. Opening statements often detail an anticipated argument and are grounded in legal theory

Your attorney will likely structure your opening statement to reflect the case’s presentation.


After opening statements, the plaintiff will present their case. Presentation may include a review of evidence collected during discovery, subpoenaed documents, and the results of interviews and interrogations. After material evidence has been presented, the plaintiff may call witnesses to testify, and these same witnesses may be cross-examined by opposing counsel. Once the last witness has testified, the plaintiff will rest their case, and the defense will present their case, discuss their own evidence, and summon their own witnesses. A trial can take days, weeks, or months to complete.

Closing arguments.

This stage is often a persuasive overview of the facts of the case according to each party, intended to persuade a judge or jury.

Judge or jury’s decision.

If the challenge is overseen by a judge, the judge may issue a verbal ruling after closing arguments or “take the case under submission.” If the judge takes the case under submission, they will have 90 days to issue a ruling.

If one party is not pleased with the outcome, they may appeal the case.


Philip J. Kavesh
Nationally recognized attorney helping clients with customized estate planning guidance for over 40 years.