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As the degree of wealth among high-net-worth individuals continues to grow, so do the opportunities for families to battle over that wealth. That translates into work for trusts and estates litigators, who say they are busier than ever � and some are hiring help. Hanson, Bridgett, Marcus, Vlahos & Rudy partner David Baer, who heads the firm’s trusts and estates litigation group, said he picks up a new matter every two or three weeks. “Five years ago, for me personally, I generated new work every few months,” he said. Based in San Francisco, Hanson, Bridgett employs about 130 lawyers, including seven trusts and estates litigators. Two are full-time and the rest contribute regularly on a part-time basis. But with the upswing, Baer said he has had to pull five litigators from the firm’s commercial and real estate practices to help. At rates ranging from $250 to $475 an hour, Baer’s T&E clients include wealthy individuals as well as institutions like the University of California and KQED. He said he’d like to hire at least one more full-time trusts and estates litigator. “If it’s someone who’s bringing in business, maybe I’ll hire two,” he added. And the business isn’t limited to the Bay Area. Randolph Godshall, a partner in the tax and estate planning group in Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton’s Orange County office, said his caseload has about doubled in the last five years. Nor is it limited to mid-sized firms � 1,500-lawyer Reed Smith recently brought Lisa Carvalho in from Steefel, Levitt & Weiss as a partner in Oakland. A combination of challenges associated with an aging population, growing wealth, family relationships complicated by multiple marriages, and poor estate planning have contributed to an uptick in probate disputes, T&E lawyers say. Over the past year and a half, Burlingame’s 30-lawyer Carr, McClellan, Ingersoll, Thompson & Horn has added two trusts and estates litigators, said partner Keith Bartel, bringing its total to three. That complements a trusts and estates planning group of eight attorneys. Reed Smith’s Oakland group numbers four full-time partners and a part-time senior associate. The group is grooming another associate to specialize in trusts and estates litigation, partner Bette Epstein said. Carvahlo said that when high-net-worth families end up in litigation, they won’t hesitate to hire specialty counsel whose rates approach some corporate lawyers. She said she bills at $450 an hour. Epstein, whose hourly rate is $525, said she deals with increasingly valuable assets, particularly property. In June, for instance, she was involved in a trial over the sale of a $45 million ranch. At issue was whether the property should be sold to a third party or whether the siblings should keep it in the family. Epstein said it settled after two days of trial, with one member buying up the trust’s stock in the ranch corporation and the stock of other family members. The growing popularity of so-called revocable trusts is behind some of the fighting, T&E lawyers say. Just about anyone can form a living trust, a vehicle for the management and distribution of property and a means of avoiding having estates subject to probate. But courts don’t supervise trust management, lawyers say, and all too often family members who are ill-equipped to manage the trusts are named successors after the founding trustee’s death. To boot, trustees who are family mem-bers tend to have an interest in the trust, and, Carvalho says, “That is definitely a recipe for litigation.”

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