What to Expect When There Is a Trust Dispute

If you want to challenge a trust that affects you or you want to defend against a trust dispute, it is critical that you understand the process of contesting a trust and what to expect from a trust dispute in California.

Business Estate & Tax Attorneys, P.C. is a full-service law firm that provides sophisticated legal guidance and capable legal assistance in navigating complex challenges. Our founding trust dispute lawyer in Orinda, Leighton Burrey, has an extensive background in estate planning and litigation. He can guide you through the complex process involved in a trust dispute and craft a legal strategy designed to achieve your objectives. We take into account all aspects of your interests – financial and otherwise. Contact us today for a consultation to discuss what to expect when there is a trust dispute. Read on for additional information. 

Differences Between Trusts and Wills

Trusts and wills are the primary instruments that are used to transfer property in California. A will is a testamentary document that only goes into effect after the testator’s death. The testator’s property is disposed of according to the instructions included in the will through probate, a court-supervised process for distributing the assets and wrapping up the estate.

A trust is a legal document that appoints a person to follow the instructions in the trust, called a trustee. The person making the trust is called the grantor. There are different types of trusts. For example, a revocable trust can be freely changed or terminated at the grantor’s whim. An irrevocable trust is one that cannot be modified or revoked. All trusts become irrevocable at the time of the grantor’s death.

Trusts include terms about when the trustee should distribute property to beneficiaries. Distributions may be one-time transfers, or assets may be distributed over a longer period of time.

A trust becomes effective at the time it is created, so it can be useful to plan for disability, as well as for after the grantor’s death. Trusts are usually privately administered and not subject to court supervision. However, if a trust dispute arises, the person contesting it must file a petition in probate court, just like they would to contest a will. 

How to Contest a Trust in California 

To contest a trust in California, you must file a petition in the county court where the trust is being administered. The petition sets out the facts and your reasons for contesting the trust. You have a limited amount of time to file your petition. There are also special rules regarding what information your trust must include and who you must give notice to about your dispute.

Because contesting a trust can be a complex process with many legal and emotional implications, it is best to first discuss the matter with a trust dispute attorney in the Bay Area. A knowledgeable lawyer can examine the facts involved in your case and whether you have legitimate grounds to contest a trust. Additionally, he or she can advise you of the potential consequences of contesting a trust, including the effect of a no-contest clause. 

Reasons to Contest a Trust

Most trust contests arise because a beneficiary or heir is dissatisfied with the trust or trust administration. Beneficiaries might think that the trust does not reflect the grantor’s wishes.

Some common reasons why trusts are contested in California include:

  • You believe the grantor was unduly influenced or coerced into making the trust or revisions to the trust
  • You believe the grantor lacked the mental capacity to make a trust
  • The person who helped set up the trust benefits from the trust
  • Trust fraud occurred in the creation of the trust or in the trustee administration
  • You believe the grantor was suffering from mental illness, had dementia, or was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of signing the trust
  • The trust document was forged
  • There are multiple trusts that have contradictory terms
  • The trustee is misappropriating or wasting trust funds
  • The trustee has failed to make required distributions or provide accountings as required by the trust 

Who Can Contest a Trust?

Not just anyone can contest a trust. To contest a trust, you must have legal “standing.” In the case of trust disputes, this means that you are either a beneficiary or heir-at-law who was disinherited or disadvantaged by the trust. You must also have a valid reason to contest the trust, such as those identified above. 

How Long Do I Have to Contest a Trust

The trustee will usually send a Notice of Irrevocability as required by California law. The statute of limitations for contesting a trust is generally 120 days after receiving this notice. If you miss this deadline, you can be barred from pursuing your claim. However, if you were not given this notice, you may still be able to pursue your claim. Contact an experienced trust dispute attorney to learn more. 

How a Trust Attorney at BETA Law Can Help

The experienced Bay Area trust attorneys at Business Estate & Tax Attorneys, P.C. can investigate your case and determine the grounds to contest the trust. We will gather additional information and evidence to support your claim. For example, if you suspect that the grantor was unduly influenced or coerced, we will investigate these allegations and determine if your loved one was vulnerable and whether someone was actively trying to take advantage of them.

We can also advise you of your legal options at each phase of the case. Our attorneys are personable and down-to-earth. We will educate you on your legal options so you feel confident in the path forward. If you decide to pursue legal action, we will timely file your claim. We can also recommend when alternatives such as mediation may be better suited to achieve your objectives.

If you would like to learn more about trust disputes and how we can help, contact us today.