Contesting or disputing a trust in California

How to Contest a Trust in California

How to Contest a Trust in California

Contesting a trust, disputing a trust, voiding a trust, invalidating a trust, etc. are all common terms for the legal process in which a beneficiary or heir seeks to change the inheritance, gift, bequest, or distribution they’re set to receive, per a trust agreement, after a loved one passes away.

Can I contest a trust in California?

Yes, you can contest a trust, and it is more common than most people think. Trust contests often hinge the ability to prove that the person who created the trust lacked the capacity to do so (often because of a stroke, dementia, or other condition) or was subjected to undue influence by someone who benefited unnaturally from that influence.

Can a family trust be contested?

Yes, we protect families and heirs every day. In many cases, one beneficiary will contest a trust for the benefit of multiple heirs, beneficiaries, and/or family members. We work with heirs to resolve trust disputes quickly, efficiently, and cost-effectively, often for the benefit of multiple parties.

Can a beneficiary contest a trust?

Yes, most contestants are beneficiaries to the trust who have had their inheritance reduced due to the undue influence of an interloper.

How do I contest a trust?

First, consult an experienced trust contest attorney, who can help you examine the facts of your case and advise whether your case is worth pursuing, both emotionally and financially. Second, file a petition with the county court in which the trust is being administered (i.e. where the trustee is). Third, make sure your contest is timely filed. In most instances the trustee will have sent a Notice of Irrevocability under Probate Code section 16061.7, which will set hard deadlines by which you need to have your trust contest filed with the court. If you miss that deadline, you likely will be barred from pursuing your claim. Fourth, rely on your counsel to investigate the sources of additional information and witnesses who will provide the evidence needed to secure a favorable result in your case. Fifth, when you have the information you need, you are ready to mediate (try and settle) your case or take it to trial. Some common legal claims include…

Incapacity or Lack of Legal Capacity

The person who created the trust may have been incapacitated (e.g. coma, stroke, etc.) or otherwise lacked mental capacity sufficient to have understood what they were doing (e.g. Alzheimer’s dementia, medications, etc.) when they executed their trust.

Undue Influence or Coercion

The trust may not represent the decedent’s true, intended disposition of his/her estate because someone else exercised undue influence over them and coerced them to provide benefits to them that they otherwise would have not have given them. Very often the coercing party is a family member who cared for the decedent, a caregiver, a “friend,” but often it can be anyone who providing any service for the decedent who has an opportunity to use influence to obtain an unintended benefit.

Trust Fraud, Including Document Forgery

Sometimes documents are simply forged or doctored, opening the door to civil challenges and, occasionally, criminal charges.

How long do you have to contest a trust?

You may have been told that you have 120 days to contest a trust. While it is possible that you could have only 120 days from your loved one’s passing, the more specific answer is, as summarized above, the deadline is triggered by the date of mailing of the Notice of Irrevocabilty or Notice of Trust Administration sent pursuant to Probate Code section 16061.7. Probate Code 16061.7 gives an heir or beneficiary 120 days from the date notice is mailed to contest. If the notice does not contain a copy of the trust, then you will need to ask for a copy. If no copy is provided then you still have only the original 120 days to contest. If a copy is provided within the 120 days, then you have 60 days from the date the trust is mailed to you to contest. It is confusing and easy to get wrong. You would be best-served to retain counsel to help you examine your deadline as soon as you have an inkling that you may want to contest, even if it is before you get a copy of the trust.

There’s a no-contest clause in the trust. Can I still contest it?

The vast majority of states do not enforce no-contest clauses, also known as in terrorem clauses. California is one of the few exceptions, albeit in limited circumstances. The main things to remember are: (1) if you have “probable cause” to contest the trust, then the no-contest clause most likely will be enforced against you; and (2) if your gift was eliminated, rendering the no-contest clause irrelevant, you have nothing to lose and can contest without worry about the clause coming into play.

Do I need a trust contest attorney near me?

In general, we recommend working with a trust litigation lawyer familiar with the county probate court in which the trust is being administered – i.e. where the trustee is. For example, if the decedent lived in Los Angeles and the trust is being administered by a trustee out of Los Angeles, we recommend working with a Los Angeles trust litigation attorney. Even if you live in Kansas City.

How do I choose a trust contest lawyer?

At RMO Lawyers, we protect families and people like you everyday. Contact us anytime for a free consultation, by email at [email protected] or call us at (424)320-9444.

About RMO Lawyers, 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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