The case involves my trust petition where the trustee contested that I was not a beneficiary and alternatively claimed the defense offset for debts due to the estate (from my predeceased mother whose share I took by right of representation). The court has now ruled that I am the beneficiary, but reserved ruling on the offset issue. If the court finds that the offset is greater than my share, who would be the prevailing party? I don't want to owe costs.
The probate court enjoys broad equitable powers over the trusts within its jurisdiction. (Estate of Ivy (1994) 22 Cal. App. 4th 873, 883-885 [court exercises equitable powers pursuant to trust supervision to exempt prevailing beneficiaries from provisions of Code of Civil Procedure which would undermine their recovery of attorney fees].)
This discretion derives not simply from judicial gloss, but from the Probate Code itself. For example, although Code of Civil Procedure section 1032, subdivision (b) entitles a prevailing party in ordinary civil litigation to costs as a matter of right, the probate court retains discretion to decide not only whether costs should be paid, but also, if they are awarded, who will pay and who recover them. (Prob. Code, § 1002.)
Of greater concern, IMO, is the ability of the court to award fees in addition to costs. Good luck.
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Doesn't this depend on what your suit was for? If the Court granted the prayer in your Petition (to be a Beneficiary) then you may be the prevailing party already.
Look at the prayer, discuss it with your Attorney and consider use of the FREE Settlement Program at the LA Central Court.
An Attorney consultation ~ with candor and confidentiality ~ would result in legal advice that fits the specific situation [facts and documents (if any)].
If you don't have an attorney, I suggest you get one. What were the debts your mother owed? There maybe statute of limitations issues on asserting even claims of offset against your mother. Your Petition was as a beneficiary and you won. The Trustee raised a new issue essentially his own Petition to Determine distribution of the Trust.
Note the only costs essentially would be the filing fees at this point unless there has been a lot of discovery. Under the facts you have presented, it does not appear to be a basis on either side for attorneys' fees.
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Two issues as follow:
BENEFICIARY STATUS: You are the prevailing party on the issue of beneficiary status. You won on that issue.
OFFSET: Not clear who is prevailing party. If court reserved jurisdiction, it either has not decided the issue, or, has decided the issue and reserved jurisdiction for enforcement purposes.
Read order carefully. Order should provide insight.
It is an excellent question and many litigants fail to appreciate the subtle distinction presented by prevailing party statutes where there is not an absolute 100% winner on all issues (which is a very rare occurrence in unto itself). It appears you are worried about prevailing not because you are attempting to get paid your fees, but because you are attempting to avoid having to pay your opposing party's fees. Fortunately, in cases such as this, Probate Courts have wide discretion and exercise it often. Normally, statutes provide a "shall" / "may" paradigm such as in CA Probate Code section 19255 that requires the Court to award court costs to the prevailing party in a Trust claim but permits the Court to award attorney fees in the event the claim is found to be unreasonable. This means that the Judge has no choice but to award costs to the prevailing party but has a lot of ability to not award attorney fees.
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