Typically, if you are a beneficiary of a revocable living trust or an heir of a trustor or grantor (the person that created the trust), you have a minimum of 120 days to file your contest petition in the appropriate court, at least in California.
The 120-day time period may seem excessively short, but statutes of limitations are designed to bring finality to cases. Here, the abbreviated timeline is to allow trust estates to be settled more quickly so people can move on with their lives.
To take advantage of the abbreviated 120 day filing deadline, however, the successor trustee of the trust must send the required notice mandated by California Probate Code section 16061.7 within 60 days, and it must include the mandatory notice and a copy of the trust documents. Also, the deadline will not apply if the notice fails to include all the required language. Finally, if the notice does not include the trust documents, then the 120 day filing deadline can be extended – up to an additional 60 days if the documents are provided within the original 120 days, for a total of 180 days.
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Are there other exceptions to the 120 day rule?
If the notice is untimely or incomplete, then the standard statutes of limitations apply to your claims, which usually are three or four years.
However, if no documents are provided with the notice or forthcoming thereafter, then you will need to seek court intervention to obtain a copy of the documents or risk waiving your ability to contest.
The 60 day, 120 day, or more, deadline and what documents you are entitled to and when can be confusing, and you would be well-served to consult with a probate litigation attorney to determine the actual deadline to file a contest.
Can You Challenge a Trust After Death?
Yes, of course. Probate courts are built specifically to handle trust challenges after a decedent passes, and trust litigation attorneys routinely handle post-death trust contests and challenges. If you believe you discover an impropriety with a trust or a trust amendment after a loved one passes, you would be best served to consult a trust litigation lawyer to go over your case sooner rather than later to avoid missing any important deadlines, including the 120 day deadline discussed.
Can a Trust Be Overturned?
While the vast majority of contested trusts and trust amendments are going to withstand challenge, with the right facts carefully procured and presented to support winning legal arguments it is very possible to overturn a trust or a trust amendment. This is why you should consult a trust litigation attorney as soon as you have facts that lend themselves to a challenge.
If you successfully petition a probate court to overturn a trust or a trust amendment, usually the court will reinstate the grantor’s most recent, prior valid trust document or amendment. In the case of a successful challenge to trust amendment, the trustee then would distribute assets based on the trust terms that existed before they were amended.
However, if you have an entire will and trust overturned and there are no earlier documents, the estate will be split based on the state’s intestate succession laws for intestate succession. In that case, only family heirs will receive a share, based on their degree of kinship to the grantor.
What Rights Do I Have as a Beneficiary of a Trust?
Beneficiaries of a trust have many rights, including the right to be reasonably informed about the trust, its assets, liabilities, administration and expenses, as well as when your share of the trust will be distributed to you. As a trust beneficiary you have standing to challenge a trust or trust amendment, and you also have the right as an interested party in the trust to challenge a trustee’s actions in court to ensure they are discharging the fiduciary duty they owe to you.
If you believe that a trustee is not abiding by the terms of a trust to which you are beneficiary or is refusing to provide transparency – including accounting for assets and expenses, you can seek trustee suspension or trustee removal in court. Whether a court is going to be willing to suspend or remove a trustee is going to depend on the severity of the fiduciary breach(es) and the harm caused to the trust and its beneficiaries by the trustee misconduct. Breach of fiduciary cases are very fact determinative, so you would be best-served to discuss your situation with an experienced trust litigation lawyer to learn about your options, including filing a petition for suspension, removal, breach of fiduciary duty, surcharge and/or damages.
Have questions? We’re happy to discuss.
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Can You Fight a Trust in Court?
The Trustee’s Guide to Trust Distributions
The Trustee’s Guide to Avoiding Trustee Removal
The Guide to Breach of Fiduciary Duty and Abuse
About RMO, LLP
RMO LLP serves clients in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Orange County, San Diego, Kansas City, Miami, and communities throughout California, Florida, Missouri, and Kansas. Our founder, Scott E. Rahn, has been named “Top 100 – Trust and Estate Litigation” by SuperLawyers, Trusts and Estates Litigator of the Year, and Best Lawyers in America for Litigation – Trusts and Estates. For a free consultation, call (424) 320-9444 or visit: https://rmolawyers.com.