What Is a Trust Contest?

A trust is a legal arrangement where one person or entity, known as the “trustee,” holds the title to property and manages it for the benefit of another person or people, known as the “beneficiaries.” When an interested party believes that a trust is legally invalid, they may pursue a legal action called a “trust contest” to dispute the enforcement of the trust.

However, you cannot contest a trust simply because you don’t like or agree with its terms. Rather, to challenge a trust in court, you must have legal grounds to attack the validity of the trust document. 

Common reasons you can contest a trust include the following:

  • The person making the trust was mentally incompetent or incapacitated when the trust was created or amended.
  • The trust was created or amended due to undue influence, duress, or coercion committed by someone with an interest in the trust property. 
  • The trust was created or amended as a result of fraud or forgery. 

If you would like to contest a trust but are not sure if you have a valid reason to do so, consult with a trust litigation attorney as soon as you can. Most trust lawyers offer free initial consultations, so there’s no reason not to discuss your situation with a professional.

What happens when you contest a trust?

To contest a trust, you’ll need to file a dispute in probate court. You’ll need to have detailed and specific facts and evidence that support your claim, as well as witnesses to testify to this evidence. The more evidence and witnesses you can find to corroborate your version of events, the more likely you are to succeed. 

Trust contests often can take several years to complete the probate litigation process. However,  partnering with an experienced probate litigation attorney can sometimes decrease the time it takes to resolve your case. A knowledgeable lawyer can identify the best strategies for contesting a trust, which will give you the greatest chance of obtaining the most favorable outcome quickly.

Your trust litigation attorney should handle court hearings on your behalf and walk you through every stage of the probate litigation process. You can expect your case to include an investigation and discovery phase, where each side strengthens their case and then exchanges information with the other side. Your case may also involve a mediation session, which is a formal settlement negotiation process led by a probate judge, and, if a settlement cannot be reached, a trial.

If the probate court rules in your favor in a trust contest, the trust document will be considered invalid, and the property will not be distributed according to its terms. Instead, the estate assets will be allocated based on state intestacy laws, a will, or a previous trust instrument.

Is it hard to contest a trust?

It can be challenging to successfully contest a trust because you must be able to prove that the trust instrument is legally invalid. For this reason, you should always consult with a trust litigation attorney to determine if the contest is worth pursuing.

To successfully contest a trust, you must show that the document is unenforceable for one of the legally recognized reasons we discussed above. In most cases, the challenging party will have the burden of proof, which means they must present sufficient evidence to prove that the trust is invalid. However, in some instances where undue influence is alleged, the burden will shift to the party supporting the trust to prove that it is valid.

Before moving forward with a trust contest, you should always discuss your situation with an experienced trust contest lawyer. An attorney can evaluate the circumstances of your situation and advise you on the strength of your case. Sometimes, you might not have a legitimate reason for disputing the trust, or you might conclude that the cost of taking legal action outweighs the potential rewards. Most trust litigation attorneys offer free consultation, so take advantage of this to get a professional opinion on your case.

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 https://rmolawyers.com/.

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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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