Trusts are designed to make a post-death administration easier than probate. One of the advantages is the ability to avoid court supervision over the process. Unfortunately, however, sometimes disputes arise and court intervention becomes necessary to work out the issues. Many of these disputes will be litigated under Probate Code Section 17200, which allows either a trustee or a beneficiary to petition the court regarding “the internal affairs of the trust” or to “determine the existence of the trust.”
Probate Code Section 17200
This section of the probate code allows trustees and beneficiaries to ask the court for help with numerous trust-related issues:
- Determining how to interpret the trust document
- Determining the validity of a trust provision (i.e., a trust contest)
- Determining where property should go if the trust is not clear
- Instructing the trustee on how to proceed if he or she is unsure
- Compelling the trustee to do any of the following:
- Provide a copy of the trust
- Provide information about the trust as requested by a beneficiary
- Provide an accounting
- Having a trustee removed
- Granting powers to a trustee
- Remedying a breach of the trust by a trustee
- Modifying the trust, if necessary
These are some common reasons a beneficiary or trustee might petition the court regarding the internal affairs of the trust. The statute authorizes many other actions as well.
A proceeding under this section is commenced when a trustee or beneficiary files a petition with the probate court stating facts showing the petition is authorized under the statute. It must include the grounds of the petition as well as the names and addresses of anyone entitled to notice.
A hearing will be set before a probate court judge where the court will decide whether or not to grant the petition. There may be multiple hearings before the court makes a final decision.
If a beneficiary feels that any portion of the trust is invalid, a petition under Probate Code Section 17200 is the place to start for challenging the trust. This is a common use of this code section. It would be wise to consult an attorney prior to bringing such a petition though, as it may invoke the no-contest clause in the trust. If you lose the trust contest, and the court finds it was an enforceable violation of the no-contest clause, you could lose your right to your share of the trust.
Sometimes disputes arise between the trustee and beneficiaries, or between different beneficiaries. It might be regarding the interpretation of the trust, whether or not to sell trust property, or how the trustee is handling his duties. Petitions under Probate Code Section 17200 offer a way to clear up disputes by having the court intercede in a limited way at the request of the parties involved.
Helix Law Firm can help with trust administration or inheritance disputes
If you're a trustee or a beneficiary of a trust and need to enforce your rights, we can help. If necessary, we can file and pursue a petition with the Probate Court under Probate Code Section 17200 or another applicable section.
If you're interested in learning more about how Helix can help, please call us at (619) 567-4447 to schedule a free consultation.