Uncertainty about a loved one’s last wishes can surface tensions between family members, causing arguments and hurt feelings. Ambiguity, unaddressed issues or inaccuracies in the deceased’s will, trust or other estate plan can lead to costly, emotionally draining court battles that drive rifts between family members for years.
In the third and final segment of our series exploring issues we’ve found in California trusts that might make you want the services of a San Diego probate attorney, we’ll address mistakes.
Trust mistakes are the result of poor estate planning.
Mistakes usually fall into one of four categories:
- Mistakes by the trustee. Many trustees don’t handle trust administration at a professional level, and so can make basic mistakes in dealing with beneficiaries or investing trust assets.
- Sloppy estate planning. A trust can’t be made with a cookie-cutter approach. Once it is finished, it will need regular adjustments for changes in the testator’s life. Most people need professional help in drawing up the terms of a trust. Without it, there will inevitably be errors, misunderstandings, and unresolved issues that will need to be worked out through litigation in California probate court.
- Ambiguity or unclear terms. Language in even carefully made trusts can be open to interpretation. If a testator doesn’t make their wishes clear in up-to-date, explicit terms, it can create a lot of confusion and resentment. To reduce liability, ambiguous language is best clarified by an official judgment in court.
- Avoidance of painful issues in the testator’s life. The testator may have made a trust for the life they wanted instead of the life they actually had. If a testator is in denial about the reliability of the person they appoint as trustee, or if they won’t make adjustments for a beneficiary with health problems or special needs, it can lead to mistakes and omissions in the trust.
Some examples of situations that commonly lead to important mistakes in trusts include:
- A trustee invests trust assets without professional advice, leading to unwise decisions and significant loss.
- A trustee gives property or assets to a beneficiary immediately upon request, without verifying the accuracy of the request or double checking with the attorney.
- A testator made the trust using ready-made forms from a computer program.
- A testator left the entire estate to one of the children, assuming that child could be trusted to divvy up property and assets alone.
- A testator changed lawyers several times over the lifespan of the trust, leading to repeated, outdated, and omitted information.
- A parent didn’t want to choose between children, and so appointed multiple successor trustees.
- A testator makes a deal with a beneficiary and does not follow through on it, such as promising property if the beneficiary provides live-in support through the testator’s final years, but then actually bequeathing that property to someone else.
- A testator who remarried late in life neglected to adjust the trust to provide for the second spouse.
Are you a trustee or beneficiary dealing with mistakes in a deceased loved one’s trust? The San Diego probate attorneys at The Grossman Law Firm offer Riverside trust litigation, will contests, and probate services. Make an appointment for a free, 30-minute consultation with one of our attorneys today by calling 888-443-6590.
Also be sure to order your copy of Scott Grossman’s FREE book The Ultimate Guide to California Trust and Probate Litigation: How Sons and Daughters Get Their Rightful Inheritance from Their Parents’ Wills and Trusts.
AttorneyThe Grossman Law Firm, APC · 525 B Street, Suite 1500, San Diego, CA 92101 · (951) 523-8307