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How Long Do You Have To Contest A Will Or Trust In California?

Probate Litigation Attorney

How Long Do You Have to Contest a Will or Trust in California?

Whether you are the beneficiary of a will or trust or not, the question, “Can you contest a will?” is an important one. The quick answer is yes, contesting a will or trust is possible, and the California Probate Code 16061.7 provides legal guidelines for the process. In property law, a will or trust contest is a formal objection that a person raises against the validity of a will or trust.

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How Long Do You Have To Contest A Will Or Trust In California?

How Long Do You Have to Contest a Will or Trust in California?

The party contesting asserts that the will or trust doesn’t reflect the intent of the person who made the will (testator) or trust (the settlor) and that the will or trust is thus invalid. You can only contest a will or trust if you have legal standing (financial stake in the outcome). In California, standing to challenge a will is limited to two categories of persons:

● The persons named on the will (beneficiaries);

● The persons who would inherit from the decedent if the will was invalid (spouse, heirs, and persons named on earlier wills).

It’s important to note that the process of contesting a will in California differs from that of contesting a trust. Indeed, will and trust contests operate under different sets of rules, with each document having distinct statutes of limitations for the contest. Statutes of limitations are the laws that stipulate the time limits by which you should take legal action or otherwise forfeit your right to do so.

Contesting a Will in California

If a person passes away after having made a will, their property is transferred to the beneficiaries named in the will in the probate process. A California Probate Court is tasked with the probate and estate administration process that details and distributes the decedent’s property after death. The probate court is also responsible for settling estate administration disputes, such as will contests.

The person named as the executor or personal representative in the will works with the probate court to oversee this process diligently and honestly. In California, you cannot contest a will until the executor probates the will or admits the document into Probate. Essentially, unless a California probate court determines that a will is a will, it remains as evidence of a will.

The probate process proves the validity of the will. The named executor has 30 days to petition for will administration after learning of the decedent’s death. After filing a petition for Probate, the executor needs to mail the notice of the court hearing to every person named in the will, the deceased’s heirs at law, and alternative personal representatives named in the will.

How Long Do You Have to Contest a Will?

Once the executor files a petition to Probate with the court, you can object to this petition and file your will contest before the document is admitted to Probate during the initial hearing, before the court can legitimize the will. The hearing occurs 30-45 days after the petition is filed or 15-30 days upon request. The probate court will give you enough time to file your written objection and will contest the lawsuit where you will provide your reasons for challenging the will’s validity.

Under the California Probate Code 16061.7, you have 120 days to contest a will after the probate proceedings open. Once the will is admitted to Probate and deemed valid, you can still file a petition within 120 days to request the court to revoke the order admitting the will to Probate. This action is known as the Petition to Revoke Probate and should state the legal grounds for the will contest.

How Long Do You Have to Contest a Trust in California?

The timeline for contesting a trust in California is slightly different from a will’s. When a trust becomes irrevocable, such as when the settlor dies or becomes incapacitated, the California Probate Code Section 16061.7 requires that the acting trustee (the person managing the trust) send or serve a Statutory Notification by Trustee or trust notice to all the beneficiaries of the trust within 60 days. The trustee should also mail copies of the trust and associated documents, like amendments and restatements.

If you wish to contest the trust, you have 120 days starting from the date you are served the trust notice. If the applicable trust documents (the copy of the terms of the trust) are not included in the notice, this period is extended by up to 60 days from the day you receive the documents. However, it’s essential to file your claim within a reasonable timeframe.

Reasons to Contest a Will in California

You can contest a will or trust in part or entirely for several reasons. Below is an overview of the most common legal grounds for challenging a will or trust:

● A lack of testamentary capacity – Testamentary capacity, also referred to as sound mind and memory, is a person’s mental and legal ability to make a valid will. You can challenge a will if you assert that the testator lacked mental capacity when drafting the will, including the acuity to understand the nature and amount of the property. The lack of testamentary capacity can be proved by the irrational conduct of the testator, medical records, and the testimonies of will witnesses.

Undue influence – The assertion that the will was drafted under duress, coercion, over-persuasion, force, or fraudulent activities, such that the will doesn’t reflect the testator’s desires.

● Fraud – This can be presented as a false representation of facts to the testator. Fraud in will execution can occur if the testator is told that the document they signed was something other than the will. Fraud in the inducement occurs when the testator is misled by facts that cause them to make a different document from the one they intended.

● Technical flaws – You can base a will contest upon failure to follow the legal formalities necessary in California. For instance, the state required that a will be notarized and witnessed/signed by at least two disinterested persons.

● Forgery – You can also challenge a will on forgery allegations. This can range from forgery of the entire will, including signatures, to the modification or insertion of pages in a legitimate document.

Contesting a will or trust is not an easy process. Enlisting the services of a reputable trust and estate attorney in California is essential if you wish to challenge a will or trust successfully. A knowledgeable and experienced attorney in trust and probate litigation will guide you through the Probate and will contest process. The process may include an investigation, plea, discovery, and potential trials and appeals to successfully challenge the will or trust.

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Hess-Verdon & Associates, PLC
620 Newport Center Drive Suite 1400
Newport Beach, California, 92660
Office: (949) 706-7300 
Toll Free: (888) 318-4430

Copyright © 2022 Hess-Verdon, PLC. All rights reserved. The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. The verdicts and settlements listed on this site are intended to be representative of cases handled by Hess-Verdon & Associates, PLC. These listings are not a guarantee or prediction of the outcome of any other claims. The information contained on this website is not tax or legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law. For current tax or legal advice, please consult with an accountant or an attorney.

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Hess-Verdon & Associates, PLC
620 Newport Center Drive Suite 1400
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Copyright © 2022 Hess-Verdon, PLC. All rights reserved. The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. The verdicts and settlements listed on this site are intended to be representative of cases handled by Hess-Verdon & Associates, PLC. These listings are not a guarantee or prediction of the outcome of any other claims. The information contained on this website is not tax or legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law. For current tax or legal advice, please consult with an accountant or an attorney.

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