Can a trust or a will be contested?
Disputing, voiding, or invalidating a trust or will is often called contesting the document. This refers to when a beneficiary, heir, or family member files a petition challenging a trust’s validity.
If someone is contesting a trust, they seek to change the inheritance, bequest, or distribution to alter what they were supposed to receive from the trust and estates left behind by a deceased loved one.
Often, clients ask, what are the chances of successfully contesting a trust? And that depends on
What can initiate a contest?
- Trust does not convey the settlor’s intent
- The wording of the trust is ambiguous
- Trust does not serve its purpose
Four grounds for contesting:
1. Fraud or undue influence
Sadly, people try to exploit the elderly, incapacitated, or otherwise vulnerable. Someone who places undue influence on another person creates their trust or will document inherently violates the law. Anyone who suspects this may be the case can contest the trust’s or will’s validity and may cite fraud or undue influence. Forgery is also a lawfully accepted ground for a challenge.
Suppose you believe that the person who created the trust (known as the settlor) was not mentally competent when they signed the trust. A trust is only legally valid if the person who made the trust was aware of what they were doing.
Further, anyone 18 or older can legally create a trust or will. However, anyone younger than 18 is considered too young to build trust or will document. That means anyone under 18 cannot do so. Unless proven otherwise, Adults of sound mind can create a trust or will. Therefore, if someone has dementia or a substance abuse issue, it is possible to call into question the person’s capacity to create a legally binding document.
3. Violating provisions
For a trust or will to be valid in California, it must be written or typed and signed by the maker when two witnesses are present. Both the witnesses must also sign the trust or will. Additionally, neither of those witnesses may be someone named in the document. The trust or will is invalid if any of these provisions are violated.
4. Multiple wills
Lastly, there is the possibility that someone has more than one trust or will. That happens when people move into a new state or attempt to update their estate plan by drafting a new document. In many cases, the courts consider the new trust or will the definitive legal document, and the old trust or will is not.
Challenging a trust or will is rare. However, survivors should not wait to raise the red flag when there is an issue. People concerned about their inheritance, management, and administration of the trust or will document must speak with an estate litigation attorney in California. Or where the final trust or will was last filed. The longer you wait, the more damage can happen and the less money or property you may receive in the long run.
Still unsure of your next steps?
If you still want more information, check out our complete Overview of California Probate on our website. And if you have more questions about your rights as a beneficiary and what you should know moving forward. Please review our articles on “Beneficiary’s Rights in California,” “Temporarily Suspending a Trustee,” and “What to do when a trustee has a Conflict of Interest” for more information on your rights as a beneficiary.
Or if you are still having some trouble or have any more questions, or want to talk to someone about your case, please give us a call or fill out our Get Help Now form.