An estate plan often includes the creation of a trust to manage and distribute assets to beneficiaries after someone passes. However, trust disputes and conflicts can arise within families or between beneficiaries, leading to a process known as trust litigation. Trust litigation is a legal avenue in California to address these disputes and contests related to trusts, ensuring that the wishes of the deceased are upheld.
Types of Trust Litigation
Trust litigation in California encompasses a range of issues and disputes that may arise after the establishment of a trust. These issues can include but are not limited to:
Disputes Over Trust Terms: Beneficiaries may have different opinions on what certain clauses or provisions mean, leading to conflicts that require legal resolution. Such conflicts could arise from intentional errors, fraudulent influence, or an honest mistake in the language of the trust.
Contests of Trust Validity: There are situations where individuals may question the validity of the trust itself, alleging undue influence, lack of capacity, or other issues. Such contests can be contentious and often necessitate legal action to reach a resolution. Contests may also trigger the terms of a no-contest clause in the trust designed to prevent contests by removing the gift to the contestant.
Property Disputes: Trust litigation may also arise when there are disagreements over the distribution of property or assets held within the trust. This can include real estate, financial assets, personal possessions, or other valuables.
Fiduciary Disputes: Trust litigation can arise from contentions that a trustee – the person responsible for managing and distributing the trust assets – has acted in misconduct or mismanagement concerning the trust or its beneficiaries. Beneficiaries may take legal action to protect their interests and the integrity of the trust.
Is It Too Late?
One common concern individuals have when facing trust disputes is whether it’s too late to resolve issues amicably.
Beneficiaries must be mindful of the written communication they receive from the trustee. The trustee may give the beneficiaries notice that the trustee has changed or that the trust can no longer be revoked, triggering a short 120-day statute of limitations to contest the trust. A trustee may also provide an informal accounting to beneficiaries with formal language giving a 60-day deadline to request a formal accounting.
If the trust issues do not include a contest of the trust or if no 60-day notice concerning bringing a formal request for an accounting, trust litigation matters may be effectively navigated even after time has passed.
Hiring an experienced trust and probate litigation attorney is the first step. The right attorney will specialize in navigating the complex legal landscape, and can help mediate conflicts, negotiate settlements, or, if necessary, litigate the matter in court.
Concerns about the costs associated with trust litigation can be a deterrent for some. However, litigation expenses can be mitigated by seeking amicable solutions through mediation or settlement negotiations. Under the proper circumstances, some attorneys may work on contingency fees, which means they only get paid if you win the case, reducing the upfront financial burden.
By seeking legal counsel, understanding the different types of probate and trust litigation, and taking proactive steps to avoid a trust dispute, individuals can navigate trust-related challenges successfully. It may never be too late to seek amicable solutions that preserve family relationships.