San Diego Attorney Ralph Hughes

Ralph E. Hughes is a shareholder focusing on Probate and Trust Litigation.

Ralph began working in probate litigation in 1977, when he was assigned to work on the case of a San Diego travel agent who had been murdered by his sixth wife and her boyfriend.  After dealing with legal issues that arose in California, Mexico, Switzerland and France, Ralph understood that probate litigation could be a challenging and rewarding field. Since that time, Ralph has worked on probate and trust disputes of all kinds – large and small, infamous and unknown.  A familiar face in the probate department for years, Ralph has developed a thorough understanding of the legal and emotional complexity of his cases. His knowledge and insight assist clients in both understanding their situations and attaining their goals. 

Ralph was an Adjunct Professor of Law at California Western School of Law in San Diego for 16 years.  As a teacher, Ralph learned how to explain legal concepts in a manner that is understandable. As a professor in the field, Ralph was required to learn and teach concepts outside of litigation. He can bring a knowledge of tax laws and estate planning to his dispute-oriented cases that frequently assists in resolving those cases in a constructive manner.

Ralph has participated in more than 100 mediations and settlement conferences.  He has served as a private mediator and is currently affiliated as a mediator with West Coast Resolutions Group.  He has served as a Judge Pro Tem in the San Diego Probate Court. 

Ralph has been certified as a certified specialist in Estate Planning, Trust & Probate Law for more than twenty years. He has chaired the State Bar Committee that certifies specialists in the field. Ralph is a frequent speaker and author, and has given educational presentations to attorneys in San Diego and throughout California. He is currently a member of the Trusts and Estates Advisory Commission of the California Lawyers Association, a statewide group that monitors and proposes legislation, conducts educational programs, and publishes the California Trusts and Estates Quarterly, a scholarly publication featuring articles of current interest to California lawyers.

Ralph is regularly sought as an expert witness in cases across the state involving issues of standard of care of fiduciaries and attorneys in the estate planning, trust and probate arenas.

In 2003 Ralph was one of the first lawyers in California to recognize the tremendous impact that the adoption of HIPAA would have on practices in the probate courts. His article, “When Worlds Collide: The Privacy Challenge to Casual Use of Protected Medial Information in Probate Courts and Estate Planning” set forth initial guidelines outlining procedures for courts and practitioners to follow when dealing with private medical information.

Ralph’s 2010 article, “Reintroduction of the Terms ‘Trustee de son tort’ to the California Trust Lexicon” (Trusts & Estates Quarterly) explained how an ancient and long-forgotten trust concept could be applied to many modern day trust problems. 

In 2019 Ralph and fellow shareholder, Anne Rudolph, collaborated on the article, “A Lawyer is a Lawyer is a Lawyer,” California Trusts and Estates Quarterly.  In this article, Ralph and Anne argued for a sweeping change of the role that lawyers assume when they are appointed to represent an incapacitated or allegedly incapacitated person in a California probate court proceeding.

Ralph and his wife, Jerrie, are decades-long members of the Kensington Litter Pickers.  The Litter Pickers pick up trash along the highways and byways of San Diego on the first Sunday of every month.  Ralph is also a member of the Board of Trustees of the Spreckels Organ Society, and spends many Sunday afternoons at the organ pavilion greeting visitors from around the world who come to hear weekly organ concerts in Balboa Park.  When Ralph is not picking up trash or greeting people at the organ pavilion, he reads, jogs, and practices yoga.  Every winter Ralph spends as much time as possible skiing in Colorado.

“Probate litigation involves the relationships that family members have with each other and the relationships that family members have with family property.  The issues we deal with go back to the beginnings of time. They are fascinating and complex, and we do our best to assist our clients in understanding how they can use the law to deal with the issues they face.”


  • Joined Glenn, Wright, Jacobs & Schell in 1981, which was renamed Hughes & Pizzuto in 2010
  • University of Denver, summa cum laude, Phi Betta Kappa 
  • University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley Law
  • Adjunct Professor of Estate Planning, California Western School of Law (1989 — 2005)

Affiliations & Accolades

  • California Bar – member since 1976
  • Certified Specialist Estate Planning, Trust & Probate Law, the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization
  • American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (ACTEC), Fellow (2019)
  • San Diego County Bar Association, Trust and Estate Section, Chair (2009 — 2010)
  • San Diego Bench Bar Committee (2011)
  • State Bar Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Advisory Commission (1995 — 1999), Chair (1999) 
  • California Lawyers Association, Trusts and Estates Advisory Commission (TEXCOM) 2017 — present
  • Southern California’s Best Lawyers – Los Angeles Times
  • Best Lawyers in America
  • Top Lawyers in San Diego
  • San Diego’s Best Lawyers
  • Super Lawyers – San Diego
  • AV Preeminent rating, Martindale-Hubbell

Representative Cases

  • Ike v Doolittle (1998) 61 Cal.App. 4th 51
    • Ralph was on the team that litigated Ike v. Doolittle, a ground-breaking case in trust interpretation
  • Hammer v Laycock (2006) 41 Cal.App. 4th 25
    • Ralph was the trial lawyer in Hammer v. Laycock, and his legal theories  were confirmed on appeal
  • King v Johnston (2009) 178 Cal.App 4th 1488
    • Ralph spent days in a law school library to locate a long-forgotten legal rule that led to his clients’ victory in King v. Johnston


Before sending us an email, please be advised of the following: contacting us through this online form does not create any attorney-client relationship; any information you provide is not confidential; we are not providing you with any legal advice through the website; and, we are not precluded from representing an adverse party, if any.