Capable and Skilled Legal Representation
It is always best to remain out of court and settle conflicts in the most expeditious manner possible. When it comes to California Living Trusts, sometimes it's hard for Trustees to stay out of court because beneficiaries can be unnecessarily unreasonable and demanding (conversely, at times Trustees are not acting appropriately and we help beneficiaries in these unfortunate situations). Indeed, Trustees are commonly asked to do things that don't make a lot of sense and/or might even be impossible. This creates a stressful situation which requires finesse and experience to navigate. We pride ourselves on skillfully resolving these potentially explosive situations, saving our clients huge expense, stress and delays. Unfortunately though, despite our best efforts, at times staying out of court is just not possible, especially when dealing with bad actors, whether such is a result of actions of Trustees or provisions stemming from a Revocable Living Trust or when no planning (or bad planning) was done with a Last Will & Testament.
Trust Litigation Services
It is disappointing, but often true, that a chosen trusted Trustee is uncooperative, fails to communicate or act, or worse, just straight up breaches the terms of the Trust and/or even engages in theft. As a beneficiary of a Trust, you are entitled to an accounting of trust assets and if necessary, you can force the Trustee to comply with the terms of the Trust. If a Trustee of a Trust which involves you is breaching their fiduciary duty, we can help you to remove that Trustee as well as force them to reimburse the trust for their misdeeds – and, if necessary to make you whole, persuade a judge to surcharge their part of the inheritance in accordance with the amount lost or mismanaged.
Where there is fraud, undue influence, duress, financial elder abuse and the like present in the procurement of a California Living Trust in the first place, there are remedies available to have that Living Trust thrown out. These types of legal proceedings are similar to Will Contests as outlined below.
Who Can Contest the Validity of a Will or Trust in California?
Not just anyone can contest the validity of a Will or Trust in California. You must have “standing,” which means that you stand to benefit from the outcome of your objection. In practice, this generally means that you must either be an intestate beneficiary or have been named in a previous draft of the deceased's Will or Trust.
An intestate beneficiary refers to any family member that stands to inherit assets should no valid Will or Trust exist or be recognized. In California, intestate beneficiaries include some combination of surviving spouses, children, parents, or siblings. To successfully contest a Will or Trust, a potential beneficiary should determine if they would receive any amount of property should the existing Will or Trust be thrown out. If they do stand to inherit something, they have the ability to file an objection. Our Will Contest and Trust Litigation attorneys in Valencia can help determine whether you have standing and explore valid grounds for moving forward.
Grounds for Filing an Objection to a Will or Trust in California
Many seek to contest a Will or Trust when they believe that they have been unfairly excluded from an expected inheritance. But disapproving the decisions of the Testator of a Will or Settlor of a Trust does not provide sufficient reason, in and of itself, to object to a Will or Trust, even if you are convinced it is patently unfair. Such arguments will simply not hold up in court.
The state of California recognizes the following grounds for contesting a will:
- Lack of mental capacity. The state requires that Testators/Settlors be of sound mind when they write, sign, and formalize their Will and/or Trust. This means they must be capable of making their own decisions, are aware of their actions, and are held responsible for their decisions and actions. You may be able to successfully contest a Will or Trust if you have some knowledge and evidence that the Testator/Settlor was not mentally competent around the time that the most recent draft of their testamentary documents were formalized.
- Undue influence and duress. Testators/Settlors must make their own decisions when writing and formalizing their Will and/or Trust. Victims of elder abuse can often be inappropriately compelled to include their abuser in their testamentary documents. Any provision that is proven to have been made under duress or any other form of undue influence is not enforceable.
- Fraud. In some cases, a document purported to be the Testator's Last Will & Testament or Settlor's Living Trust may not have actually been written or executed by them. Fraudulent documents or documents with fraudulent signatures can be successfully challenged and thrown out, especially if actual testamentary documents can be located. Fraud also extends to situations where a Testator or Settlor is deliberately misled and consequently alters the contents of their Will and/or Trust. For example, if the Testator is told lies about a family member, resulting in their removing that family member from the Will or Trust, the document could be contested on the grounds that it's contents were written as a result of fraudulent activity.
- Error. People are prone to making mistakes, especially as they grow older. Typos and errors can have material impacts on one or more provisions of a Will or Trust and can be more common in handwritten Wills, which the state of California might recognize if certain conditions are met. If you can provide evidence of what the testator actually intended for an element affected by a mistake, you may be able to challenge the current draft of the Will or Trust on these grounds.
- Revocation. Wills and Trusts can be revoked by the testator or an authorized representative through one of several methods. In some cases, a copy of a revoked Will or Trust may be mistakenly or deliberately misrepresented as the testator's final intentions. If you have evidence that the currently recognized draft was at some point revoked, you can challenge the legitimacy of the Will or Trust.
- Failure to properly formalize. A Testator or Settlor cannot simply write down their final wishes on a piece of paper. A Last Will & Testament and/or Trust must be properly formalized and signed in the presence of witnesses and/or notaries. These mechanisms are designed to prevent fraud and ensure that the Testator/Settlor was of sound mind at the time of the document's signing. When the appropriate procedures are not followed, the legal enforceability of a Will or Trust can usually be challenged.
The Process of Contesting a Will or Trust in California
You will need to act relatively quickly and decisively if you intend to challenge a Will or Trust in California. Any interested party can file a contest in the appropriate probate court. Legal notice will need to be served on all interested parties. Though there are restrictive timelines involved, the court will generally give all parties the ability to be heard. Make no mistake about it, the process of contesting a Will or Trust in California is time consuming, stressful and expensive. That's why trying to resolve matters out of court first is always the best plan of action.
No matter what the facts and circumstances are in your particular situation, our Valencia Will Contest and Trust Litigation lawyers at Kaiden Elder Law Group, PC can help you build (or defend) your case. We are there for you throughout the entire litigation process.