What Happens When a Living Trust Is Contested?

By Jeff Franco J.D./M.A./M.B.A.

When a decedent creates a trust, which courts refer to as a living trust, in lieu of drafting a will, the terms of the trust name beneficiaries and the trust assets they are each eligible to receive. However, the terms of a living trust are vulnerable to contests or challenges in state probate court by parties who claim the living trust is invalid because it violates state trust law.

Trust Contest Process

Regardless of whether the living trust is revocable or irrevocable, an individual who chooses to contest the trust document must file a lawsuit in the probate court of the state that has jurisdiction over the trust. The probate court will require the plaintiff to file certain documents that outline the legal arguments that support his trust contest. However, a plaintiff must always have standing to sue, meaning he must have some interest in the outcome of the court case.

Incompetence & Undue Influence

Every state in the country requires that the trust grantor be mentally competent and not be subject to undue influence at the time of creating the trust document. Therefore, two common grounds for contesting the terms of a living trust include claims that the grantor was suffering from a mental illness, or was subject to pressures by individuals capable of exerting influence over the grantor’s decisions. Both legal grounds essentially claim that the trust document is not representative of the decedent’s actual wishes for his estate. In these types of cases, the probate court considers the testimony of witnesses who can attest to the grantor’s mental state at the time of creating the trust, such as medical experts, as well as those who can provide insight into claims of undue influence by beneficiaries.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan

Documentary Defect Contests

Plaintiffs who contest the validity of a living trust can also file a lawsuit on grounds that the trust document is defective, meaning it doesn’t satisfy state requirements. In New York, the probate courts will invalidate a living trust if the document doesn’t include a sufficient number of signatures, the document’s language is unclear and ambiguous, or if there is doubt as to the authenticity of the grantor’s signature. However, the burden is always on the plaintiff challenging the trust document to present convincing evidence that leads the court to believe that the document is defective.

Possible Outcome

Probate courts require that plaintiffs contesting a living trust have standing to sue. A common occurrence is the contest by an individual who is eligible to inherit a decedent’s property through state intestate succession laws, but who isn’t a beneficiary of the trust. Intestate succession laws provide the framework on how to distribute a decedent’s estate in the absence of a will. Therefore, if an individual successfully convinces a probate court to invalidate a living trust, the state has no choice but to distribute the trust property in accordance with its intestate succession laws rather than pursuant to the terms of the trust.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan
What Can Invalidate a Living Trust?
 

References

Related articles

What Is The Difference Between a Living Trust and a Last Will in North Carolina

There are two types of legal instruments commonly used for individuals to set the terms of the distribution of their assets upon death. First, a “last will and testament” is a legal document where the person drafting the will appoints an executor (or personal representative) to carry out the will’s instructions in the probate process. Second, a living trust is a legal document where the asset holder may unilaterally change it at any time. Laws for living trusts and probate are governed by state law. Accordingly, North Carolina state law governs the differences between wills and living trusts for residents of that state.

Law on Contesting Will Time Limit in California

You can contest a will in California, but you must petition the probate court as soon as possible. California permits will contests to be filed on various grounds by interested parties. Interested parties are the deceased person's heirs, creditors and specific beneficiaries named in the will. A successful will contest can void a will entirely or eliminate some of its provisions.

Contesting a Will as a Beneficiary

Will contests take place in probate court: One of the functions of probate court is to hear any disputes pertaining to the execution of a will. A beneficiary who seeks to contest a will must have verifiable grounds upon which to do so. If a probate court deems the evidence sufficient, it may declare the entire will invalid or merely strike certain provisions.

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

Related articles

Can I File a Lawsuit Against a Living Trust if My Spouse Was Left Out?

The person making a trust -- a legal vehicle to manage property -- transfers assets into it for her use during her ...

Living Trust Vs Last Will in Texas

Probating a will can be a time-consuming and costly process. In addition, all probate costs are paid from the assets of ...

How Does a Person Contest a Will?

Of the vast numbers of wills probated each year, most don’t encounter significant problems. On occasion, however, a ...

How to Contest a Living Trust in Illinois

A living, or inter vivos, trust is created while the person donating trust property is alive. Trusts of this type are ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED