Estate and Trust Litigation FAQs for California Residents

Answers from experienced litigation attorneys in Palo Alto

At Chiles and Prochnow we understand the litigation process can be confusing and unfamiliar to lay persons.  Compounding the difficulty is legal jargon in this area of law that will be unfamiliar to most. While a list of frequently asked questions cannot cover every aspect of will or trust litigation, our FAQs page should provide a starting point.

Estate litigation frequently asked questions

Let our attorneys answer your questions and concerns

At Chiles and Prochnow we can knowledgeably answer your estate and trust litigation questions. We offer a free consultation to determine if our services are a good fit for your litigation concerns. To schedule an appointment, please contact our Palo Alto office at 650-812-0400 or online.

What are some of the circumstances that can lead to a will or trust contest?

  • There is a reason to question the mental capacity of the maker of the will or trust.
  • Persons with access and control have exerted undue influence upon the person executing the will or trust.
  • There are circumstances which involve fraud or duress imposed upon the maker.
  • The executor or trustee is engaging in misconduct or self-dealing.
  • Family members’ interests in the estate have been reduced or eliminated in favor of a person who should not inherit.
  • There is evidence of forged signatures.
  • There have been last-minute, substantial changes to the will or trust.
  • The will or trust leaves all or most of the estate to a charitable organization.
  • The will or trust is substantially different from prior instruments.
  • The will or trust in question is a copy and the original is no longer available.

Back to top

What should I do if I suspect grounds for contesting a will or trust?

If you suspect grounds exist for contesting a will or trust, you should consult an attorney.  Information the attorney may need includes:

  • the value of the estate,
  • the names and contact information for the person(s) who took care of the decedent,
  • the names and contact information for the decedent’s loved ones, relatives, friends and acquaintances,
  • a copy of the will or trust either filed or not yet filed with the probate court.  In addition it is helpful to know whether there were any earlier wills or trusts and to have those earlier documents available for review,
  • medical information about the decedent or anything which reveals the decedent’s state of mind and general physical and mental condition,
  • materials, letters or other writings that either confirm dispositions made by the will or trust, or promise or suggest different dispositions.

Back to top

Who can contest a will or trust?

Anyone with the right to inherit and who has evidence or fact-based grounds for believing that they were unfairly treated or were improperly omitted from the instrument may contest a will or trust.

Back to top

How is the validity of a will or trust determined?

An experienced attorney should review with you whether there are circumstances or other grounds that may justify a challenge.

Back to top

Can an administrator or trustee be removed?

Common situations which can lead to the removal of an administrator or trustee include the following:

  • When persons interested in the estate believe that an administrator or trustee is not fulfilling fiduciary duties or lacks expertise or knowledge necessary to fulfill those duties.
  • When an administrator or trustee does not act in the best interests of all beneficiaries, acts fraudulently or fails to properly perform assigned duties.
  • When an administrator or trustee has committed a breach of trust or breach of fiduciary duty.

Back to top

What if there is no will or trust or one cannot be found?

If a person dies without leaving a will (dies “intestate”), the probate court appoints a personal representative (called an “administrator”). The main difference between dying testate and dying intestate is that an intestate estate is distributed according to the California law of intestate succession. If there is a will or trust, the decedent’s property will be distributed according to the decedent’s written instructions.

Back to top

What do I do if I have found a copy of a will that is earlier or later than the will the executor has filed with the court?

Take the instrument to an attorney who will determine whether the instrument should be filed with the court.

Back to top

What are examples of situations Chiles and Prochnow has faced in will/trust disputes?

  • Will challenges involving incapacity of a testator, undue influence over a testator, defective execution of a will, and forgery of a will.
  • Trust litigation to challenge or defend the construction of a trust instrument or the actions of a trustee.
  • Proceedings to correct an ambiguity in a will.
  • Action against a trustee for breach of fiduciary duties in managing the trust.
  • Defense of a trustee for alleged fraud / accounting errors.
  • Proceedings to remove a trustee / executor due to incompetence.
  • Representing a creditor asserting claims in a probate estate.
  • Representing beneficiaries who were denied expected distributions in a trust instrument.

Back to top