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Can A Trust Be Contested? 

Contesting A Trust

The responsibilities of being a trustee to an estate are extensive. When problems arise, it can seem overwhelming. Having a trust attorney by your side can ease the process. It is not unheard of for a trustee to have problems with one or more of the beneficiaries. 

Probate Topics, Probate Litigation 

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Contesting A Trust

The responsibilities of being a trustee to an estate are extensive. When problems arise, it can seem overwhelming. Having a trust attorney by your side can ease the process. It is not unheard of for a trustee to have problems with one or more of the beneficiaries. The most common problem is when the beneficiary sues you for breach of fiduciary duty. You can contest a trust if the beneficiaries believe that the decedent lacked mental capacity or added an amendment disinheriting a beneficiary from a previous version of the Trust. Only certain people can contest a trust.

Proof Of Legal Standing to Contest

The first step in contesting a trust is to prove that you have the legal standing to do so. The only people who have this legal standing to challenge are:

  • Beneficiaries named in the Trust.
  • Heirs of the deceased.
  • Any creditors to whom the deceased owes money.

Grounds For Contesting A Trust

Is it difficult to contest a trust? It is not easy to contest a trust. There are very few justifiable grounds to contest, and most are difficult to prove. One common incident is if an heir is written out of the Trust via a later amendment. It is also common for siblings to contest a trust against one another. The trustee’s actions can also be used as grounds if their fiduciary duties are called into question. 

Contesting due to Undue Influence Or Fraud

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for the elderly to become targets of fraudulent actions aimed at illegally profiting from their situation. These cases are strengthened by direct evidence that the deceased suffered from Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia towards the end of their life. Undue influence is a type of elder abuse and is a crime. Examples of undue influence and fraud include:

  • Persuading the person to sign a document that they either do not understand or have no intention of signing.
  • Isolating someone and alienating them from their friends and family members.
  • Making changes to a trust by falsely representing themselves as doing so at the trustor’s request.
  • Forging a signature on a trust document.

Lacking Mental Capacity

Lacking mental capacity is frequently an aspect of an undue influence contest. Mental capacity grounds are used when the trustor has Alzheimer’s or other dementia. Too often, there is no medical documentation of dementia, which makes evidence of this defense circumstantial instead of direct. If there is other mental illness present at the signing of the Trust, then that document can be declared null and void. If the trustor is on medication that affects their ability to function normally, the mental capacity defense can be useful. Two critical factors are considered: 

  1. In simple trust documents, the trustor’s mental state is considered regarding whether he or she understood the document they were signing, their relationship with their heirs, and if they suffered periods of delusion or hallucination episodes.
  2. In more complex trust situations, there are elevated standards as to the mental state of the trustor. Standards include the condition of their short and long-term memory, their ability to recognize things that would be considered normal, their mood swings, and their alertness level.

Challenging The Validity Of The Document

California law requires that a trust is only valid if the document is signed by a trustor aware of what they are signing. The document must be witnessed by two individuals who are not among the heirs or other beneficiaries. If it is believed that the trustor was not of sound mind or if any of the witnesses have a different interest in the disbursement of the estate, then the Trust can be considered invalid.

How Much Does It Cost To Contest A Trust?

The costs related to contesting a trust can be both financial and emotional. Many times, contested trusts will require numerous hearings and conferences. In contest cases, the legal fees can be collected from the estate. Attorney fees and court costs can add up quickly and take a substantial amount of money from the estate. Emotional costs to the family and other heirs can fracture a family as a disgruntled heir can extend the family’s grief over a relative’s loss. Emotional tolls are common when a contested Trust pits siblings or other family members against one another. 

How Long Do You Have To Contest A Trust?

In California, the statute to contest a trust within 120 days following your receipt of notification. If there are signs that the trustee is not meeting their fiduciary duties, contests to a Trust can be filed beyond that time.

Contest Trust Attorneys

You should contact one of our experienced attorneys if you ask if it is difficult to contest a trust; if siblings are contesting a trust, you need to know how much it costs to contest a trust or how long you have to contest a trust. You can be better prepared for the trust and probate process with the right legal advice.

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