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Horizon Elder Law & Estate Planning Blog

Thursday, May 14, 2020

If Someone Challenges my Trust, Will it go Through Probate?

If someone challenges your trust, the judge could modify the trust, terminate the entire trust, or deny the challenge. The person disputing your trust would have to file a lawsuit in the probate court. A California estate planning attorney can help you take steps to protect your trust from getting invalidated.

If the judge modifies the trust, the asset distributions will proceed according to the terms of the trust that remain after the modification. On the other hand, if the judge throws out the trust, the estate will have to go through the probate court to execute the will (if you left a valid will) or as intestacy (if you died without a valid will or trust). In many cases, the judge denies the challenger’s request to change or void the trust.

Reasons Why People Contest Trust Agreements

Disputes over trusts do not make the news as often as will contests, but these attacks on trust agreements happen frequently. Some of the most common reasons people give for trying to bust a trust include:

Lack of Capacity

When a person tries to have a trust invalidated for lack of capacity, it means that the challenger claims that the individual who created a trust agreement to distribute his property (the settlor) lacked legal capacity at the time he made the trust. This argument also arises when the settlor made significant changes to his trust agreement, cutting out people who were beneficiaries in previous versions of the trust.

The settlor might have written a new trust agreement without understanding the consequences of his action because of dementia, mental illness, or some other debilitating condition that affected the settlor’s mental state. On the other hand, the settlor might have had a falling out with the person excluded from the new trust and intended the consequences that would result from the changed terms.

Undue Influence

Sometimes a person will exert inappropriate influence over another individual, causing him to change the terms of his previous will or trust agreement. Often the influencer is a caregiver or someone who visits the settlor frequently.

The influencer might bad-mouth other natural heirs and not let them visit or contact the settlor. Some undue influencers frighten the settlor through physical or emotional abuse or withholding food, medications, or other necessary items until he writes a trust leaving his estate to the influencer.

It can be difficult to prove undue influence. The alleged influencer might claim that the other natural heirs abandoned or neglected the settlor, and that the influencer was the only person who took care of and spent time with the settlor.

Correcting Problems with the Trust

The probate court might need to modify a trust agreement to fix issues with the language or administration of the trust. The trustee and beneficiaries might have different interpretations of some of the terms of the trust. A court might need to resolve the dispute if the language is ambiguous or open to multiple meanings.

Also, the court might need to modify a trust to address administrative hurdles. For example, with the passage of time, the expenses of administering the trust can increase to the point at which the beneficiaries receive very little income from the trust. The court might terminate the trust and distribute the assets.

Contact us today. Our California estate planning attorneys can help you challenge or defend a trust if there is a dispute.


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