Simply put, will contests and trust disputes involve arguments that are often equally about money and fairness. The issues in these kinds of cases arise when a beneficiary or heir believes that the person who created the will or trust was improperly pressured into making a gift to someone else or lacked the mental capacity to make the gift. Most often the gift is made under questionable circumstances.
For example, it may raise a suspicion of undue influence when a significant gift is made to a non-family care provider or even a family member who has rarely been involved in the decedent’s life prior to their last illness. Whether you believe someone has taken improper advantage or you yourself are being accused wrongly of doing so, the attorneys at The Dean Law Group are experienced with these types of claims and can help you by reviewing the facts and explaining the law so you can determine how best to proceed.
The attorneys at the Dean Law Group have unique qualifications in this area. Because we assist clients in creating their own estate plans we are better able to spot the holes in these kinds of documents when they are not drafted properly. Additionally, because we understand the requirements for creating a valid and binding estate plan, free from undue influence or fraud, we are able to spot problems involving these issues.
Lack of Capacity
Under California law all adults are presumed to have the mental capacity to create a will, enter into a contract, manage their own finances, get married, buy and sell property, make medical decisions and generally run their own lives without interference. That presumption can only be overcome with evidence that the person has one or more significant problems with processing information or making informed and independent decisions. Gathering and presenting the necessary evidence to prove incapacity or defend against a claim of incapacity requires skill and experience with these types of cases.
People influence one another by virtue of their daily interactions. The influence that family members or close friends have on one another is understandably greater than that of acquaintances or strangers, and isn’t necessarily improper. However, when one person exerts excessive pressure to influence another person’s independent decisions about who they will appoint as their legal agent, or to whom they will leave a bequest or gift, it can amount to what is referred to as “undue influence”. If proved, lack of capacity or undue influence related to the creation of a will or trust can result in the bequest being invalidated and overturned. Undue influence can also result in financial abuse of elders or dependent adults.
Although will contests and trust disputes are brought in the Probate Court, where the rules are slightly different, successfully prosecuting or defending against these claims requires the same skill, experience and vigorous representation as any other kind of litigation. The attorneys at The Dean Law Group, APLC have the experience and litigation skills needed to take your case to a trial in the Probate Court.
However satisfying it may be to hold the “bad guy” accountable in court, we also recognize that you, like most of our other clients, would prefer to do anything other than participate in lengthy litigation. Like any other serious problem, the early resolution of will contests and trust disputes is generally preferred by the parties and we also have the skills needed to help negotiate a settlement acceptable to our clients.