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Trust Disputes — The Importance of Timely Action

On Behalf of | Mar 24, 2016 | Trust Disputes

One of Buffington Law Firm’s largest practice areas is the litigation of inheritance disputes — which in practice almost always means litigation of a dispute concerning the terms of a revocable (“living”) trust.  A “trust contest” is a dispute as to the validity of a trust instrument or amendment thereto.  Usually these disputes arise after the trustor or trustors (the makers of the trust) have passed.  There can be many grounds for this.  It is amazingly common, for example, for one future beneficiary of a trust to exert undue influence over an extremely infirm, possibly incompetent elderly parent and cause that parent to sign an amendment disinheriting all of the other beneficiaries and benefiting only the one.  The elder often has no idea that this is what he or she is signing.  There appears to be no shortage of attorneys who will draft such amendments.  There are many other causes of trust contests and many variations on this theme.

The purpose of this article is to emphasize a single point: the importance of timeliness in bringing a trust contest if indeed this appears to be appropriate.  Unfortunately, even in many flagrant situations, family members are often reluctant to bring legal action to correct the situation, not wanting to “rock the boat.”  This can have unfortunate consequences.  In trust contests, as in all litigation, delay is death.  

Once a trustee serves a beneficiary with a “120 day letter” pursuant to Probate Code Section 16061.7(f), such noticed persons bay not bring an action to contest the trust more than 120 days from the date the notification by the trustee is served on him or her, or 60 days from the day on which a copy of the terms of the trust is mailed or personally delivered to him or her during that 120-day period, whichever is later.  [Probate Code Sec. 16061.8].  If you receive a 120 day letter and believe that a trust dispute may be appropriate, it is vital that you contact an attorney before the 120 day period has run.

There are many potential grounds for contesting the validity of a trust instrument or provision, and often there will be different applicable legal theories upon which an attorney can base an action.  These theories may have different statutes of limitations.  It is a tragic fact that many times attorneys are contacted by beneficiaries who have very meritorious grounds for disputing a trust or a provision of a trust, but the action is time-barred either by Probate Code Section 16061 or an applicable Statute of Limitation.  Do not let this happen to you.  If you believe that you are in a situation in which a trust contest is justified, contact Buffington Law Firm immediately for a free legal consultation.  There is no charge or obligation, and in this meeting you will speak directly with one of our experienced trust dispute attorneys.