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Trust Litigation — Basic Causes of Trust and Inheritance Disputes

On Behalf of | Jul 27, 2015 | Trust Disputes

Buffington Law Firm’s Trust Litigation attorney team has dealt with all manner of trust and estate disputes.  This Blog article will discuss some of the more common causes of such disputes.

The basic purpose of a revocable trust (also known as a “living trust”) in California is to essentially remove the estate from the supervision of the Probate Courts and allow disposition of the estate without court involvement.  Absent a trust, if an estate is disposed of by will, before the assets of the estate can be disbursed following the death of the person, a court order is required — the completion of the probate process.  This can be a lengthy, troublesome, and expensive process.  A trust is designed to eliminate the probate process by removing the estate from the supervision of the Probate Court and allowing the successor-trustee(s) to distribute the assets, in accordance with the trust provisions, without court involvement.

This is an excellent legal scheme and most times it works fine.  Unfortunately, not always.  Sometimes the successor-trustee of a trust adopts a secretive and arbitrary position vis’a’vis the beneficiaries.  Sometimes there are family issues involved that motivate a successor-trustee to act unfairly in any number of ways.  Danger signs that this is occurring can include the following:

  • Secretiveness — the successor-trustee does not advise the beneficiaries as to what he or she is doing and plans to do in terms of distributing the trust assets, or even what the trust assets are.
  • The trustee appears to be unreasonably delaying in distributing assets.
  • The trustee announces that there is a previously unknown amendment to the trust that favors the trustee over other beneficiaries.
  • Self-dealing: the trustee purchases assets from the trust at below fair value or, alternatively, borrows money from the trust to the disadvantage of the beneficiaries.
  • All of the valuable personal assets of the decedent are reported as “gone” e.g. jewelry, coin collection, gun collection, etc.

When these danger signs occur, the beneficiaries need legal assistance, and they need it fast.  Delay is death in trust litigation because a rogue trustee can dissipate assets in a manner that will make later recovery very difficult or even impossible.  A trust petition brought in Probate Court can ensure that a successor-trustee is required to account for all of the trust’s assets, follow the written provisions of the trust, and not behave arbitrarily.  This article discusses trust disputes in further detail.

If you are involved in a trust where these or other danger signs are present, we urge you to contact Buffington Law Firm’s trust litigation team for a no-charge free legal consultation.  At this meeting you will discuss your situation with an experienced trust dispute attorney to determine your rights.  As always, there is no obligation.