Trust & Estate Litigation
Estate and Trust litigation generally involves two kinds of cases. The first are will contests, often referred to as will caveats. The second are cases involving an executor or trustee who has mishandled an Estate or Trust, thereby breaching his or her fiduciary duties.
In his 44 years of practice, Harmon Caldwell has represented literally hundreds of clients in both kinds of cases across the State. Combining a detailed knowledge of the law, a creative approach to every case and an innate ability to communicate with clients, judges, and juries, he and his team at Caldwell, Propst & DeLoach are the unquestioned leaders in Georgia Estate and Trust litigation.
Many of his cases are notable because they created a legal precedent; because of the parties involved or because of the size of the settlement or jury award. A few of those cases are described below:
McLendon v. Priest, 259 Ga. 59, 376 S.E.2d 679 (1989)
In 1986, the Georgia legislature provided that probate courts in counties with populations of more than 100,000 would try cases to juries. After that legislation, Harmon tried the first ever jury trial in a probate court in the state of Georgia. The case involved the will of Mattie Cook, which family members alleged was the result of undue influence. The Estate was represented by SunTrust Bank. Harmon represented the family members who prevailed. The will was set aside and the family members each received significant distributions.
Estate of George W. Woodruff; Fulton County Probate Court; File No. 131319
Harmon represented Frances “Tut” Woodruff in challenging her father Coca-Cola magnate George Woodruff’s will in a case that attracted national attention. The case was resolved with his client receiving a multi-million-dollar settlement and distribution.
Roy P. Otwell, Jr., et al. v. Regions Bank, Georgia; Hall County Superior Court; Civil Action File No 95-CV-405C
He represented the family of north Georgia businessman Roy Otwell, who was largely responsible for creating both the poultry business in north Georgia and Lake Lanier, in a lawsuit claiming Regions Bank had breached its fiduciary duty and mishandled Mr. Otwell’s sizable Estate. After five weeks of trial, the jury awarded the family the largest verdict ever handed down in Hall County, Georgia.
Brenda Sims Heath v. Fred Edward Sims and Wayne Michael Sims; Fulton County Probate Court; Estate No. 151608
In Heath v. Sims, Harmon obtained a first in the nation jury award of punitive damages in a probate court case against two executors for mishandling their father’s twenty-million-dollar estate.
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center For Nonviolent Change, Inc. v. Bernice A. King and Martin L. King, III; Fulton County Superior Court; Civil Action File No. 2008CV155320
Harmon represented Martin Luther King’s children Martin and Bernice King in a highly publicized dispute with their brother over their mother Coretta Scott King’s Estate, resolving the dispute in a complex settlement.
Guardianship of Helen Montag Ferst; Fulton County Probate Court; File No. 151330
After her husband’s death, he represented Atlanta philanthropist Jeanne Ferst in a trust dispute with her sister-in-law over control of Trusts which held the proceeds from the Ferst family’s sale of its interests in Scripto and Wilkinson Sword. He prevailed in a number of pre-trial motions which led to a settlement giving Mrs. Ferst control over half the assets.
William G. Hatcher, Jr., as Executor of the Estate of William G. Hatcher, Sr. and Individually v. Pamela Hatcher; Columbia County Superior Court; Civil Action File No. 2017CV0614
He successfully represented the daughter of Augusta businessman William G. Hatcher in an extraordinarily complicated will contest and breach of fiduciary suit against her brother who had been named executor of their father’s multi-million-dollar estate.
Some of the largest Estate disputes Harmon has handled were matters in which the individuals or families chose to resolve their estate disputes confidentially, without the filing a lawsuit, and out of the spotlight that comes any time a wealthy or prominent family might air its “dirty laundry.” In Estate matters, this can be a very attractive option so as to avoid a public fight.