If a loved one recently passed away, you are likely facing many times where you don’t know what’s next. Unfortunately, trusts can sometimes compound these emotions, especially when they don’t make sense and may be invalid. Still, it takes more than disagreeing with a trust to invalidate it. Here is our guide to a successful trust contest and why you need a premier trust lawyer:
Who Can Contest a Trust?
Before determining how to win a trust dispute, one must understand who is in a position to contest a trust. Only interested parties can contest a trust. Interested parties are those with a stake in claiming the decedent’s assets, which often include:
- Beneficiaries: Those designated in the document as parties who will receive assets.
- Heirs: Family members who most assume would inherit assets, like children, spouses, brothers, sisters, grandchildren, and other members of the settlor’s family.
Generally, interested parties know who they are because they receive a notice from the trustee as required by the California Probate Code.
Determining Your Legal Basis to Contest a Trust
Winning a trust contest hinges on determining your legal ground to contest the instrument. Contesting a trust requires more than dissatisfaction.
Several situations can be considered a legal basis and lay the foundation of a successful trust dispute, though determining which scenario your situation falls under requires the counsel of an expert trust lawyer. Situations include:
If the settlor was incompetent when they created or updated their trust, this could constitute legal grounds to invalidate the instrument. Typically, incapacity is due to a severe illness, dementia, or Alzheimer’s.
Proving incapacity requires consulting with medical professionals to testify that the settlor lacked the mental capacity when they signed the legal documents.
If the trust settlor was in a vulnerable position and someone took advantage of their situation by manipulating or forcing them to change the estate plan for their gain, this is considered exerting undue influence and can invalidate a trust.
The signature on the trust must originate directly from the settlor. Otherwise, this is considered forgery. A third party cannot sign on behalf of the settlor.
Proving forgery requires proving the signature on the document is not the settlor’s, which often requires handwriting analysis and testimony from handwriting expert witnesses.
To be considered legally viable, trusts must satisfy specific criteria per California law. If the settlor did not execute an aspect of their trust per these requirements, you may be able to dispute it.
If a settler created multiple versions of a trust and/or amendments, this could be grounds for contesting the instrument. For example, if the settlor executed a newer document, you can contest an older one.
Consulting a Trust Lawyer & Collecting Evidence
Ultimately, a trust lawyer is the only person who can determine if you have a legal basis to contest a trust. We advise contacting a premier attorney, discussing the situation, and explaining why you think you have the legal grounds for a trust dispute as soon as possible.
Start by acquiring a copy of the trust instrument, collecting evidence or supporting documentation supporting your claim, and providing it to your attorney so they can assess your case, devise the optimal legal strategy, and offer guidance.
Timing is critical to a successful trust contest. Trustees must send a notice of trust administration to the trust parties within 60 days of the settlor’s death. This notice details their right to a copy of the trust terms.
Interested parties have 120 days from when they receive the notice to file a dispute, so contacting a trust lawyer fast is imperative.
Contact a Premier Trust Lawyer to Successfully Contest a Trust
Contesting a trust is a complex legal process requiring extensive expertise and experience to navigate. From interpreting the trust document to collecting legally admissible evidence, only a premier trust attorney has the skills necessary to give you an incomparable advantage in the courtroom and maximize your chances of success.
Fortunately, at Gokal Law Group, our preeminent attorneys boast unequaled expertise and dedication to client success. Contact us for your best chance at a successful trust dispute.