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240 Westgate Drive, Watsonville, CA 95076
Consultations vary based on type of case/practice area 831-740-8881 831-740-8881

Santa Cruz and Watsonville Lawyers Resolve Contentious Trust and Estate Disputes

Estate litigation attorneys serving the Central Coast counties of Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito

In the event a dispute arises regarding an estate, we have the knowledge and advocacy skills to successfully resolve such disputes. The Grunsky Law Firm PC represents clients in will and trust litigation, including will contests, lawsuits concerning the interpretation of estate planning documents, trust termination proceedings, and trustee removal proceedings.

What is the basis for a will challenge in California?

It is not unusual for a beneficiary of a will (or a relative whom the will does not mention) to challenge the will because in their opinion, it could not possibly express the true wishes of the testator. These cases often come up when there has been a recent change to an existing will. A disappointed heir can prevail in such a case by proving the will is invalid for one of the following reasons:

  • Lack of capacity — This ground asserts that the testator was not of sound mind. This is a common assertion where testators are known to have been suffering from dementia.
  • Faulty execution — Generally, a will must be written, signed and witnessed by a disinterested party. Failure to observe these technicalities opens the door to fraud.
  • Undue influence — It is common for a person, such as a caregiver, who has nearly exclusive access to the testator, to induce the testator to alter a will in their favor to the detriment of other beneficiaries. Evidence that the caregiver prevented other relatives from seeing the testator and arranged for the testator to meet with an attorney generally strengthens the perception of undue influence.
  • Duress — This ground alleges the testator only executed the will because he or she was under a threat of physical or emotional harm.
  • Fraud — In this case, the testator is fooled into executing a will that does not reflect his true wishes.
  • Forgery — The genuine will was either never executed or was replaced with a fake.
  • Vagueness — The language of the will is so unclear, it could lead to several different interpretations, and therefore is not enforceable.

If an amended will is not valid, the court can throw out the new version and enforce the older. However, if only one will was ever executed and the court finds it invalid, the estate must pass according to California’s laws of inheritance.

What is the duty of a trust administrator?

Once a grantor establishes a trust, the trustee or trust administrator has a duty to care for the trust assets. But what exactly does this mean? Generally speaking, a trustee must:

  • Act in good faith — Essentially, the trustee must be honest and take seriously the responsibilities of a fiduciary to care for the trust assets and implement the goals of the trust.
  • Exercise reasonable care and skill in managing trust assets — The trustee must be competent, careful and prudent when making investments with trust funds.
  • Deal impartially with all beneficiaries — The trustee cannot favor one trust beneficiary over another in decisions affecting the trust.
  • Maintain accurate records — The state and federal governments set standards for reporting that the trustee must follow.
  • Avoid conflicts of interest — Especially with investments, the trustee must act in the interest of the trust and not use funds to benefit himself or a third party.

Trustees can be held personally liable for losses to the trust due to any breach in their fiduciary duty. Even the most meticulous estate planning is all for naught if a trust is not managed properly. In our practice, we represent beneficiaries who have concerns about the way a trustee is managing a trust; we also represent trustees whose management is in dispute.

Contact our estate litigation attorneys in Santa Cruz and Watsonville

If you have questions about how an estate is being settled or a trust is being managed, speak to an experienced trust and estate attorney at The Grunsky Law Firm PC. We protect the rights of beneficiaries and capably represent trustees, so we understand estate litigation from all sides. Call us today at 831-740-8881 or contact us online to schedule a consultation at our Hollister or Watsonville office.