In the wake of a loved one’s passing, it is normal to feel complex emotions. Unfortunately, these complicated emotions can complicate sibling relationships, especially when it comes to inheritance. This added emotional wrinkle is often at the heart of siblings contesting a trust in California. At Gokal Law Group, we have helped siblings achieve their ideal outcome during trust contests for decades. Here is what to consider when siblings are contesting a trust.
Siblings Contesting a Trust in California? What to Consider
A trust contest is a lawsuit in which a beneficiary or interested party files an objection to the validity of a trust. Only someone with “legal standing” can contest a trust.
“Legal standing” is defined as someone who will be personally affected by the outcome of the lawsuit. In a situation involving siblings contesting a trust in California, the siblings are often beneficiaries of a trust, and therefore have “legal standing.”
These people often include disinherited or disadvantaged heirs, but they must bring their claim within a specific time frame. In California, there is a 120-day window to contest a trust. If they fail to file a contest within this window, they are not allowed to contest the trust at all.
- Lack of mental capacity
- A trust that fails to meet signature requirements
- Undue influence
When siblings are entrenched in a trust contest, it often involves proving the person who created the trust – oftentimes a parent – had a mental incapacity, such as dementia or a stroke, or that the trust was the result of undue influence. In other situations, a trust does not comply with trust provisions, which can be another cause for a trust contest among siblings.
“In California, the person who creates the trust must legally draft and sign it with two witnesses present who should also sign the document. If these requirements are not met during the creation of a trust, it could invalidate the trust and cause siblings to feel like there was something underhanded at play.” – Harry Wallace, a partner and senior trust litigation attorney in Orange County with over 30 years of California trust litigation experience.
Another common occurrence that causes siblings to pursue trust litigation is when there are multiple trusts. In these situations, the newer document is often deemed valid. These situations usually occur when there are blended families.
Most importantly, however, in many situations, siblings conflate how much their parents love them with the amount of their inheritance, making these situations even more challenging.
Inheritance Theft Among Siblings
Unfortunately, inheritance theft is a common problem among families that can do irreversible damage to family ties, and it is often at the heart of siblings contesting a trust in California. Inheritance theft can take several forms, such as:
- Manipulating the wishes of the person who created the trust
- Embezzling money after they pass away
- Claiming money they loaned was a gift after they pass away
- Abusing a power of attorney designation to divert funds
- Making false allegations against other siblings to increase their inheritance
- Outright forgery
How to Deal With siblings contesting a trust in California
When this occurs, there are several options at your disposal. In more severe cases, a sibling can face civil action. The California Probate Code also outlines grounds for pursuing punitive damages, double damages, attorney fees, or even outright disinheritance.
If a sibling contests a trust, working with a trust litigation attorney to file a formal complaint with the probate court is essential. When such a contentious situation arises in families, reducing conflict and supporting each other through the complex emotions of a loved one’s passing is a top priority.
To that end, pursuing an alternate dispute resolution (ADR) is an excellent option. Generally, however, we advise considering creative compromises and talking through the issues, as misunderstandings are often the culprit of conflict.
Try to understand the other person’s point of view and avoid assuming the worst. Trust litigation attorneys can also be an excellent resource for mediation.
Premier California Trust Litigation Lawyers
When siblings are contesting a trust, there is more than inheritance on the line. In many cases, family ties are also at stake, and in the wake of a loved one’s passing, you need family more than ever. Still, in some situations, California trust litigation is unavoidable. Whether you need help with mediation or litigation, working with a premier trust litigation attorney in Orange County is of the utmost importance.