Robert F. Epstein

Robert F. Epstein

Trust, Estate, and Fiduciary Litigation

Rob Epstein is a founding partner of Epstein + Holtzapple LLP. Rob specializes in estate, trust, probate, and fiduciary litigation, a highly specialized area in which he has represented clients for more than 25 years. Rob became interested in this field early in his career when he represented a law firm that was sued due to its estate planning for an elderly client. (She had bequeathed her substantial fortune to her boyfriend who later was held to have committed felony grand theft against her.) Since then, Rob has handled estate litigation cases throughout California. Nearly all cases in the probate court are bench trials that are decided by a judge with no jury. Rob has successfully tried many of these cases to judgment, including will contests, trust contests, and fiduciary liability trials in Marin, Napa, and Sonoma Counties.

The aging of the Baby Boomer generation has led to a massive transfer of family wealth that is well underway and likely will continue to spike for another 10 to 20 years. Due to Marin’s unique demographics -- its aging population combined with an average county income that is in the top five in the U.S. -- Rob refers to Marin County as "Ground Zero" for estate litigation. While Rob is known for his success in settling these matters, an unusually high percentage of probate litigation cases go to trial, often due to deep-seated intra-family conflicts that prove incapable of any resolution other than the judgment of a probate court. For these reasons, during the past three years alone, Rob has spent more than 40 days in probate court trials.

Rob's recent cases include the following:

  • Successful defense of the trustee of a $40 million real estate trust who was subject to a six-year prosecution and appeal by the State Attorney General. The AG's $26 million in claims resulted in a $1.4 million trial court judgment that was further reduced on appeal.
  • Successful trial defense of a trust contest by family members who alleged that the decedent's multi-million-dollar gift to a charity was the product of her insane delusions.
  • Successful defense of a sister who was sued by her siblings on the theory that she was the "de-facto" co-trustee of a family trust; the court entered judgment for Rob’s client on all claims following a 15-day court trial.
  • After more than 30 depositions of percipient and expert witnesses, pre-trial settlement of a contest of a $60 million personal property trust based on claims of undue influence and lack of legal mental capacity.
  • In separate cases, successful representation of two plaintiff fathers -- one 92 years old, the other 88 -- each of whom sued to recover their trusts from their children who had wrongly declared them to be incompetent.
  • In a contested conservatorship trial, successful representation of the spouse of a dementia patient whose adult daughter from a prior marriage was attempting to be appointed as his conservator.

General Civil Litigation

Rob began his career with the San Francisco firm of Farella, Braun & Martel and later was a partner of Ragghianti Freitas LLP in San Rafael. In 2012, Rob founded Epstein Law Firm, which became Epstein + Holtzapple in 2019.

Rob draws on his extensive trial and mediation experience to provide highly skilled representation on behalf of his clients in a variety of civil litigation areas. During his nearly 30 years as an attorney, Rob has conducted jury trials throughout California. Prior to specializing in trust and probate litigation, Rob represented hundreds of clients in litigation cases involving a wide variety of issues, including employment, insurance coverage, real estate, personal injury, medical negligence, government tort liability, and more.

The examination of expert witnesses at deposition and trial is a subject of particular interest for Rob. His cases have involved experts in an assortment of fields, including attorneys, accountants, engineers, bankers, and a wide variety of physicians and other health care professionals.

Local Government Law

Rob serves as City Attorney of San Rafael (first elected in 2007, reelected twice). Rob previously served as Town Attorney of San Anselmo (2006-2018), and City Attorney of Belvedere (2006-2018). Rob also has served as Interim Town Attorney for Tiburon, and has represented the cities of Corte Madera, Novato, Piedmont, and Petaluma (and numerous special government districts) in litigation matters.

As a Marin County city attorney, Rob has provided legal advice and counsel to more than 40 elected city council members, 10 city managers, seven chiefs of police, and has attended more than 700 city council meetings.

Community Activities

Rob regularly assists the Marin County Court as a judge pro tem, and previously served for more than 10 years on the volunteer mediator panel for U.S. District Court in San Francisco. Rob is a past president of the board of Legal Aid of Marin, past president of the Richard Sangster American Inn of Court (Marin/Sonoma/Napa), and past vice president of the board of the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center. Rob has coached the San Rafael High School Mock Trial team since 2011.

Education

Rob graduated with highest honors from UC Berkeley with a degree in Rhetoric (1985), and received his Juris Doctor from UC Hastings College of Law (1991), where he served as a federal judicial extern for the Hon. Fern M. Smith (Ret.).

Reported Cases

  • Richardson v. Franc (2015) 233 Cal.App.4th 744
  • Vita Planning and Landscape Architecture, Inc. v. HKS Architects, Inc. (2015) 240 Cal.App.4th 763
  • MHC Financing Limited Partnership, et al. v. City of San Rafael, et al. (9th Cir. 2013) 714 F.3d 1118
  • People ex rel. Harris v. Shine (2017) 16 Cal.App.5th 524
  • People ex rel. Becerra v. Shine (2020) 46 Cal.App.5th 288

Unpublished Cases

  • Albert Park Neighborhood Alliance v. City of San Rafael (2013 WL 1093208)
  • Smith v. Jablonski (2008 WL 4697012)
  • Laidley v. City of Belvedere (2007 WL 2819534)
  • City of San Rafael v. Zitek (2004 WL 2005971)