Trust and Probate Litigation

San Jose Lawyers Representing Trustees and Beneficiaries

Family conflicts can work their way into disputes about the validity or administration of a trust or a probate estate. When there are significant amounts of money involved, these conflicts can become heated. Beneficiaries may have disputes with other beneficiaries or with a trustee or another fiduciary. Disputes can turn into formal litigation. At the Sowards Law Firm, our San Jose trust and probate litigation lawyers can provide tenacious, trustworthy representation to trustees and beneficiaries.

Trust or probate litigation can arise in connection with many different types of issues and disputes. Sometimes probate litigation arises because there is a question of undue influence or elder abuse in connection with a will, and as a result, the will is challenged by someone who otherwise would have inherited property under it. Trust litigation may arise because the validity of a trust is in question. Litigation may result when beneficiaries are seeking to remove and replace a trustee who misappropriated funds. There may be a contested accounting, or there may be questions about whether amendments to a trust are valid.

Trust Litigation

Any act or omission by a trustee that violates the terms of the trust or violates the trustee’s fiduciary duties may give rise to litigation. In California, trustees owe numerous, significant obligations regarding the trust that they are handling. Under California law, a trustee owes a fiduciary duty to beneficiaries. The trustee must administer a trust solely in the beneficiaries’ interests. In some situations, a trustee commits fraud or misconduct by failing to manage real estate property appropriately or according to trust terms, failing to handle routine duties, not communicating with beneficiaries, failing to pay the trust’s bills or debts, not providing accountings, liquidating trust assets inappropriately, or stealing from the trust. Our trust and probate litigation attorneys can help San Jose residents bring a claim in any of these situations. We represent clients throughout the Bay Area and also in Santa Cruz.

If there has been mismanagement of the trust assets by the trustee, you can petition to have the trustee removed. The remedy will vary depending on the situation. Sometimes the court orders that assets be put back into the trust. Alternatively, if a trustee spends money on non-material things, it may be possible to get a monetary judgment against the trustee.

Trust contests are often filed when an heir or a named beneficiary has concerns about the way in which assets are distributed in a trust. Your attorney may be able to petition the court to dispute specific provisions and terms based on undue influence, incapacity, forgery, or mistake. Remedies could include the modification, termination, or invalidation of the trust.

Some of the matters that we handle involve pet trust litigation. A pet trust is a way to bypass probate and ensure that your pet receives proper care and treatment promptly should you die or lose the capacity to care for them. The assets in the trust will become immediately available for the care of your pet, and the guardian appointed in the trust will be responsible for caring for the pet. If you believe that the pet guardian has not fulfilled their duties, or if you are being sued based on your actions as a pet guardian, we can investigate the circumstances and offer assistance.

Probate Litigation

A California probate petition can be filed in superior court. Matters that can be the subject of a filing include will contests, the appointment or removal of personal representatives, estate management, and the distribution of the probate estate. Probate petitions and responses to them must be verified under Probate Code section 1021.

In order for you to file a will contest, a will must have been offered into probate, which is the process used to prove the validity of a will. When somebody files a petition to get a will admitted to probate, you will need to object and file a will contest. Our San Jose trust and probate litigation attorneys can assist you with this process. After the will is admitted to probate, it is considered a valid will. Grounds to file a will contest in California include duress, undue influence, misrepresentation or fraud, improper execution, forgery, or incapacity.

A common reason to challenge a will is a lack of testamentary capacity. Testamentary capacity means that the testator (the person making the will) was mentally competent or of sound mind to make provisions for their property. Generally, testators are presumed competent, and you cannot challenge a testator because they made a decision to leave their property in a way that you think is unfair. However, if a testator suffered from dementia, alcohol abuse, substance abuse, or a mental illness, it is possible that they lacked adequate testamentary capacity to bequeath property. The court will look at whether the decedent knew what they were signing when they made the will and whether they knew of the document’s importance.

Consult a Trust and Probate Litigation Lawyer in San Jose

If a dispute has arisen regarding a will or trust, you should retain an experienced attorney who can advance your interests. At the Sowards Law Firm, we represent people in San Jose, Campbell, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Santa Clara, Berkeley, Oakland, Concord, Walnut Creek, San Rafael, Salinas, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco. Call us at 408-371-6000 or complete our online form to find out more about our services.