Can a Living Trust Be Disputed?

By Maggie Lourdes

A living trust is an estate planning tool that allows a person's property to bypass probate court proceedings after death. At the same time, living trusts generally allow people to maintain full control over their assets during their lifetimes. Trusts are governed by state law and, like all legal documents, must comply with applicable statutes. A trust that does not conform with the law may be challenged in court and partially or completely invalidated.

Standing to Dispute

Not just anyone can dispute a living trust. A person must prove she has legal standing to challenge a trust. This means a party must show she would be harmed if the trust terms were enforced. For example, John Smith's trust leaves his assets "to all my children, Betty and Mary." John has another child, Sally, who the trustee tries to eliminate because she is not mentioned by name. Sally has standing to argue her father accidentally left out her name since the trust states all of his children are to receive his property.

Technical Disputes

Each state has its own laws governing the technical legal requirements for making a trust. Generally, a person making a living trust must be at least 18 years of age. Trusts must be made to accomplish a legal purpose. For example, a trust cannot be made for the specific intention of laundering money. Trusts that hold real estate must be in writing and signed by the trust's maker. A person may dispute the legal enforceability of a trust if he can prove it fails to meet a technical, legal requirement.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan


A trust may meet all technical requirements, but it still may fail if fraud exists. For example, Bob is tricked into signing a trust for his house after being told it is a contract for lawn services. The legality of the trust can be disputed because Bob was fraudulently induced to sign. Even if Bob is a competent adult, and the trust is signed and in writing, a court could invalidate it based on fraud.

Pressure and Conflicts

A party must sign a trust under his own free will. If a person signs under duress, while being physically threatened, for example, the enforceability of the trust can be disputed. Undue influence is a similar ground for disputing a trust. Undue influence occurs when someone, such as an elderly person, is pressured or rushed into signing a legal document. A trust may also be challenged if a person closely involved with the drafting, witnessing or encouragement for a trust stands to gain by its terms. Such conflicts of interests may undermine the trust's validity.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan
What Happens to a Trust When No One Is Named As a Beneficiary?


Related articles

Rules and Regulations of North Carolina Last Wills and Trusts

The rules regarding wills and trusts developed over the course of centuries by English judges were later modified when American courts began developing their own common law. Under the American system, the regulation of wills and trusts is a matter left to the authority of the individual states. In North Carolina, Chapter 31 of the General Statutes governs wills and Chapter 36C governs trusts, with some related matters covered by other sections.

The California Law on Trustee Incompetency

Removing a trustee for incompetence in California can be a painful process for all concerned. Since trustees are presumed by law to be competent, beneficiaries of a trust who want to remove a trustee must prove to the satisfaction of the court that the trustee is incapacitated to the extent he is unfit to serve. Many trustee challenges involve family members, for example, the beneficiaries of a trust created by parents on their children's behalf. Litigation to remove a parent as trustee in such circumstances can be costly, time-consuming and emotionally devastating.

Can an Irrevocable Trust Be Reversed?

A trust is a legal vehicle that allows you to place assets under the control of a trustee, and have your trustee distribute these assets to your beneficiaries. Two type of living trusts are possible -- revocable and irrevocable. An irrevocable trust is difficult but not impossible to revoke or terminate. Although state laws differ, the basic principles of irrevocable trusts are the same in every state.

LegalZoom. Legal help is here. Start Here. Wills. Trusts. Attorney help. Wills & Trusts

Related articles

What Can Invalidate a Living Trust?

With a living trust, an individual - known as the "settlor" - typically gives up control of property placed in the ...

Is a Living Trust Good in All States?

Living trusts are a commonly used estate planning tools, because they are flexible and recognized in every state. The ...

California Law Regarding Revocable Trusts

California residents who want to protect their assets from probate court can draw up a revocable trust -- also known ...

Blind Trust Vs. Revocable Trust

A trust is a legal structure used to safeguard assets. Revocable trusts and blind trusts serve distinctly different ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED