OUR CASES

The attorneys at the Law Offices of Taylor, Leong & Chee have achieved numerous successful verdicts at trial and on appeal in trust, estate, and probate litigation matters for clients throughout the State of Hawaii. Below are significant reported cases in which the Firm has prevailed:


Estate of Herbert, 90 Hawaii 443, 979 P.2d 39 (1999)

The Firm represented, at trial and on appeal, a church that had been denied an inheritance when the decedent's Last Will and Testament had been rewritten by a caregiver to exclude the church and to make the caregiver himself the primary beneficiary of the decedent's estate. Affirming a jury verdict in favor of the church that rejected the Will proffered by the caregiver on the grounds of lack of testamentary capacity, undue influence, and mistake, the Hawaii Supreme Court used its 28 page decision as an "opportunity to clarify and affirm the antiquated body of the Hawai'i law of wills and the principles established therein." As a result, the decedent's property passed to the church that was the beneficiary under the prior Will and not to the caregiver.

The opinion is one of the first in the country that applies the new rules of evidence to the specific matters that must be established in order to prove lack of capacity, undue influence, and mistake in the execution of a Last Will and Testament. The case is cited numerous times by Ross & Reed, Will Contests, 2nd edition, regarding jury instructions, evidentiary burdens and proof, etc. In addition, it is cited numerous times in both Am.Jur.2d and CJS regarding trials, evidence and wills. It has also been cited by appellate courts in California, Iowa and the District of Columbia.  It is also cited in more than a dozen law review articles.


Estate of Herbert, 91 Hawaii 107, 979 P.2d 1133 (1999)

As a sequel to the case in chief cited supra, the Hawaii Supreme Court addressed the caregiver's request that the Estate of the decedent be ordered to reimburse him for the attorneys' fees that he had incurred in attempting to probate the Will that the jury had rejected. Under Hawaii law, a person is entitled to be reimbursed by the decedent's estate for the reasonable attorneys' fees incurred in a good faith attempt to probate a Will even if the Will is not admitted to probate. The Court rejected the caregiver's request and adopted "a per se rule that prohibits a finding of good faith on the part of a personal representative defending a will contest when (1) the personal representative was also the proponent of the will and (2) the personal representative has been found to have exercised undue influence over the testator or testatrix in the execution of the same will." Accordingly, the caregiver was not entitled to have his attorneys' fees paid by the Estate of the decedent. The court's opinion has been cited by appellate courts in Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Minnesota and Maryland.


Kunewa v. Joshua, 83 Hawaii 65, 924 P.2d 559 (Haw.App. 1996)

The Firm represented, at trial and on appeal, four sisters contesting the actions of their brother who had used a power of attorney from their mother to transfer all of her property to himself shortly before she died. Affirming a jury verdict in favor of the sisters, the Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals ruled that an attorney-in-fact (the brother) could not convey the principal's (the mother's) property to himself unless the power of attorney explicitly permitted a gift to the attorney-in-fact. It also ruled that the attorneys' fees paid by the sisters in setting aside the brother's actions could be considered by a jury in determining the amount of a punitive damages award.

The case has been cited by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Federal District Court in Hawaii and Utah, and appellate courts in Delaware, Guam, Maryland, Mississippi, South Dakota, and Wisconsin regarding both the limitations on the powers held by an attorney-in-fact and the computation of punitive damages. It has also been cited in more than a dozen law review articles and legal texts.


Estate of Damon, 76 Hawaii 120, 869 P.2d 1339 (1994)

The Firm represented, at trial and on appeal, a remainder beneficiary of a three-quarters of a billion dollar trust who opposed the prevalent interpretation that the trust would terminate 21 years after the death of the settlor's last grandchild. His view, advanced by the Firm, was that the trust should terminate upon the death of the last grandchild and not 21 years later. Reversing the trial court, the Hawaii Supreme Court agreed with the Firm's argument, holding that the trust terminated immediately upon the death of the last grandchild, with the result that all the assets were distributed to beneficiaries within a reasonable time thereafter.

The case is cited multiple times by the Restatement (Third) Trusts regarding the proper interpretation of words used in a trust. Bogert, The Law of Trusts and Trustees, cites the case as an example of the interpretation of trust language so as to avoid an impermissible perpetual private trust. The case has been cited by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and by appellate courts in Connecticut, Idaho and Montana.


Kapiolani Park Preservation Society v. City and County of Honolulu, State of Hawaii, et. al., 69 Hawaii 569, 751 P.2d 1022 (1988)

The Firm represented, at trial and on appeal, a non-profit organization that opposed City and County of Honolulu-approved plans to build a Burger King restaurant adjacent to the Honolulu Zoo, and to permit commercial sales activities to occur at the Waikiki Shell. Both the Zoo and the Shell are located in Kapiolani Park at the foot of Diamond Head in Honolulu, Hawaii. Reversing the trial court that had ruled in favor of the State, the City and County, and the Burger King franchisee, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that Kapiolani Park is, and will always be, governed by the terms of the 1896 trust under which a portion of the land that constitutes the Park was donated. As a result, the attempt to build a restaurant within the Park was prohibited because it was inconsistent with the terms of the 1896 trust. The Honolulu Advertiser editorialized on March 24, 1988 that "some at City Hall scorned as elitists those residents who fought the Shell and zoo battles against commercial facilities and took the issue to court. But the open-space victory they won is for everyone now, as well as future generations."

The case is cited by the Restatement (Third) Trusts as a leading case giving members of the public the ability to sue to enforce a charitable trust "in circumstances in which a serious breach of trust is threatened, especially when the attorney general declines to bring suit or supports the trustee's position." Bogert, The Law of Trusts and Trustees, cites the case for the same proposition and as an example of trust language that prohibits the leasing of trust land. Further, the case has been cited by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Federal District Court in Hawaii, California, and Nevada, appellate courts in Colorado, Maryland and Minnesota, and by trial courts in Connecticut, Ohio and the Virgin Islands. Finally, various aspects of the case are discussed in more than two dozen published law review articles and legal texts.