How Do I Dispute a Family Trust?

Trusts are legal agreements in which one person (a trustee) holds property for the benefit of another (a beneficiary). A family trust is created by one or more people who want to share their wealth with their children, grandchildren, nieces, or nephews. 

However, there can be circumstances where a beneficiary may not want to accept the terms of the trust, such as when their inheritance has been reduced or eliminated because of interference by a third party. In these cases, it may be possible to dispute a family trust.

In order to contest a family trust, you must have a legally recognized reason to challenge the validity of the trust document. This means that, in some circumstances, you may not have the legal grounds necessary to dispute the trust. 

Some of the most common reasons for disputing trusts include:

  • The trust does not represent its maker’s true intent because a third party exercised undue influence over them 
  • The trust was procured through fraud
  • The trust is a forged or otherwise fraudulent document
  • The person who made the trust did not have the mental capacity to do so

The first step to contesting a family trust is to consult with an experienced trust litigation attorney. A knowledgeable professional can review your situation and make recommendations as to the best course of action to achieve your goals. In some situations, it may not be possible to dispute a trust, or you might decide that the emotional toll would be too great. Speaking with a trust lawyer can help you determine whether the costs of legal action outweigh the possible benefits.

How long do you have to challenge a trust?

You must challenge a trust within 120 days of receiving a Notice of Irrevocability or within 60 days of receiving a copy of the trust if it is not included with the initial notice. 

Under California Probate Code Section 16061.7, whenever a family trust becomes irrevocable because of the death of one or more of the trust’s creators, the trustee is required to send a Notice of Irrevocability to all beneficiaries.  The trustee must serve the notice within 60 days, and the notification must include the following warning:

“You may not bring an action to contest the trust more than 120 days from the date this notification by the trustee is served upon you or 60 days from the date on which a copy of the terms of the trust is delivered to you during that 120-day period, whichever is later.”

If the trustee includes a copy of the trust with the notice, you have 120 days from the date the notice is mailed to contest the trust. However, if the trustee does not include a copy of the trust with the notice and does not provide a copy within the 120-day period, you still must contest the trust before the 120-day deadline. If the trustee does not include a copy of the trust with the notice but sends one before the expiration of the 120-days, you have 

As you can see, determining the deadline for disputing a family trust in any given case can be incredibly confusing. If you miss the deadline for filing a contest, you have likely forfeited your opportunity to challenge the trust’s legitimacy. For this reason, we recommend discussing your situation with an accomplished trust dispute lawyer to ensure you don’t miss your chance. 

Have questions? We’re happy to discuss.

Call (424) 320-9444 or email [email protected]

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About RMO, LLP

RMO LLP provides personal and efficient inheritance dispute services to individual and institutional clients. The firm’s attorneys focus on probate litigation involving contested trust, estate, probate, and conservatorship matters. Serving California and Texas, with offices in Los Angeles, Pasadena, Orange County, San Diego, Fresno, the Bay Area, Dallas, and Houston. For more information, please visit

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About the Author

Scott Rahn, Founding Partner

Scott Rahn resolves contests, disputes and litigation related to trusts, estates and conservatorships, creating a welcome peace of mind for clients. He represents heirs, beneficiaries, trustees and executors. He utilizes his experience to develop and implement strategies that swiftly and efficiently address the financial issues, fiduciary duties and emotional complexities underlying trust contests, estates conflicts and probate litigation.

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