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Understanding Trust Contests: What You Need to Know

April 18, 2023

When a loved one passes away, their estate may be distributed to their beneficiaries according to their last will and testament or trust. However, in some cases, family members or others may contest the validity of the trust, leading to a legal dispute known as a trust contest. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at trust contests and what you need to know if you find yourself involved in one.

What is a Trust Contest?
A trust contest is a legal dispute over the validity of a trust or the terms of a trust. A trust can be contested for a variety of reasons, such as:

  • The trust was created under duress or undue influence

  • The trust was created when the grantor was not competent to do so

  • The trust was created as a result of fraud

  • The terms of the trust are unclear or ambiguous

  • The trust is not being administered properly

Trust contests can be costly and time-consuming, and they can also be emotionally draining for all parties involved.

Grounds for Contesting a Trust
If you are considering contesting a trust, it is important to understand the grounds on which a trust can be contested. In general, there are four main grounds for contesting a trust:

Lack of Capacity
If the person who created the trust (known as the grantor) was not of sound mind or did not have the mental capacity to understand the terms of the trust when it was created, the trust may be considered invalid.

Undue Influence
If the grantor was heavily influenced or coerced by someone else when creating the trust, the trust may be considered invalid. This can occur when someone with power or authority exerts excessive control over the grantor, resulting in the grantor’s decisions not being truly their own.

If the trust was created as a result of fraud or misrepresentation, it may be considered invalid. This can occur when someone intentionally provides false information or misleading statements to the grantor in order to influence their decision to create the trust.

Interpretation of Trust Terms
Trusts can sometimes be contested if their terms are unclear, ambiguous, or conflicting. This can lead to disputes regarding how the trust should be implemented or how assets should be distributed among beneficiaries.

Resolving Trust Contests
If you find yourself involved in a trust contest, there are several steps you can take to resolve the dispute:

  1. Seek legal advice: Consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to understand your legal rights and options.

  1. Mediation: Mediation is a non-binding process where a neutral third-party helps parties communicate and negotiate. It can be a less costly and less adversarial option than going to court.

  1. Litigation: If mediation is unsuccessful, you may need to file a lawsuit in court to resolve the dispute. This can be a lengthy and expensive process, so it is important to weigh the potential benefits against the costs.

Trust contests can be complex and emotionally charged, but it is important to understand your legal rights and options if you find yourself involved in one. Working with an experienced estate planning attorney can help you navigate the process and reach a resolution that is in your best interests.

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