Defending a Trust Contest in California

Defending a Trust Contest in California

Understanding Trust Contests

What is a Trust Contest?

A trust contest is a legal challenge against the validity of a trust or its terms. Trust contests are often initiated by disgruntled beneficiaries or individuals who believe they have been unfairly excluded from the trust’s benefits. In California, trust contests can be complicated and emotionally charged, requiring understanding of the legal principles and strategies involved.

by | Apr 17, 2023

Reasons for Trust Contests

Some common reasons for trust contests include allegations of undue influence, fraud, coercion, lack of capacity, or improper trust execution. Understanding these reasons can help you prepare a strong defense against a trust contest.

Grounds for Defending a Trust Contest

Lack of Standing

One way to defend a trust contest is to show that the person contesting the trust lacks standing. Standing refers to the legal right to file a lawsuit or contest a trust. Only “interested persons” have standing to contest a trust in California. An interested person has a financial interest in the trust, such as a beneficiary or someone who would inherit if the trust were invalidated.

No Contest Clause

Another defense against a trust contest is the presence of a “no contest” clause. A no-contest clause is a provision in the trust document stating that any beneficiary who contests the trust will forfeit their inheritance. In California, no contest clauses are generally enforceable unless the person challenging the trust has probable cause to believe the trust is invalid.

Proper Execution

Proving the trust was executed correctly can be a solid defense against a trust contest. In California, a trust is considered correctly executed if it is in writing, signed by the settlor, and either notarized or witnessed by at least two disinterested witnesses.

Testamentary Capacity

A common ground for contesting a trust is claiming that the settlor lacked testamentary capacity at the time of trust creation. To defend against this claim, you need to show evidence that the settlor was of sound mind when they executed the trust, meaning they understood the nature and extent of their property, the natural objects of their bounty, and their disposition.

Undue Influence

Undue influence occurs when someone exerts excessive control over the settlor, causing them to create or modify the trust to benefit the influencer. Defending against an undue influence claim requires proving that the settlor acted independently and voluntarily when creating or amending the trust.

Statute of Limitations

California law imposes a strict deadline for filing a trust contest. Generally, a trust contest must be filed within 120 days of receiving notice of the trust’s administration or 60 days after receiving a copy of the trust, whichever is later. If the person contesting the trust fails to meet this deadline, their claim may be barred due to the statute of limitations, providing you with a solid defense.

Take Away

Defending a trust contest in California can be challenging and emotionally taxing. Understanding the reasons for trust contests, the legal grounds for defense, and the steps involved in the litigation process can help you effectively protect your interests and preserve the trust’s intended purpose. By working with an experienced attorney and following the tips provided, you can improve your chances of successfully defending a trust contest.


Can a trust contest be resolved without going to court?

Yes, a trust contest can be resolved without going to court through settlement negotiations or mediation. Mediation is often encouraged or required before proceeding to trial.

How long does it take to resolve a trust contest?

The duration of a trust contest varies depending on factors such as the case’s complexity, the parties’ willingness to negotiate, and court schedules. Resolving a trust contest can take anywhere from a few months to several years.

Can a trustee be held personally liable for defending a trust contest?

A trustee can be held personally liable for defending a trust contest if they breach their fiduciary duties or act in bad faith. However, if the trustee acts in good faith and in the trust’s best interests, they are generally not personally liable.

What is the burden of proof in a trust contest?

The burden of proof in a trust contest typically falls on the person contesting the trust. They must provide sufficient evidence to support their claims and overcome the legal presumption in favor of the trust’s validity.

Can a trust be modified after a trust contest?

If a trust contest results in a finding that the trust is invalid in part or whole, the court may order modifications to the trust. These modifications can include changes to the trust’s terms, removing or adding beneficiaries, or even appointing a new trustee. However, any amendments must align with the settlor’s original intent and adhere to California trust law.

About Hess-Verdon Trust Litigation Law Firm

Hess-Verdon & Associates is one of the most knowledgeable and most sophisticated trusts and estate law firm in the state of California at both the trial and appellate levels.

Our legal team of Trust Attorneys is well-versed in estate planningtrust administration, and trust litigation.

Our viewpoint is the following: Aggressive legal representation with a team of experts that protect you, our preferred client, with current tax and estate planning strategies.

Our litigation team has spent years acquiring extensive experience in trial preparation, strategy, and trial presentation to help you with your specific case.

We welcome the opportunity to discuss your needs, qualifications, staffing approaches, and rate structures to resolve the estate and trust-related matters successfully. Our knowledgeable and aggressive actions are necessary to ensure the trustor/grantor maintains their wishes on the administration of the trust. Call 1-888-318-4430.



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