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No-contest clauses in California

For many of the clients that we work with here at The Law Offices of Alice A. Salvo, being named as a beneficiary brings with it some tension. You may be concerned that if you raise any questions or concerns about a trust or a will, you could potentially be disinherited. The trustee or executor in your case likely wants to follow the provisions set forth in the will or trust instrument to the letter. However, that doesn't mean to you have no right to challenge them.

The main weapon that the trustee could use against you to dissuade you from questioning the terms of the estate is a no-contest clause. According to the California Probate Code, a no-contest clause allows you, as a beneficiary, to be penalized for filing a claim in court. However, a no-contest clause doesn't simply give the trustee carte-blanche to disinherit you. Indeed, he or she is only able to invoke the clause under certain conditions.

The law gives the following three scenarios as instances where a no-contest clause could be applied:

  •          You file a direct contest (I.e., accusations of fraud, forgery, duress, etc.) without any probable cause to back up your claims.
  •          You question whether the ownership of the property being transferred is legitimate.
  •          You file a claim on behalf of a creditor against the estate.

It goes on further to define probable cause as your belief at the time of your pleading that the facts of the case would reasonably support upholding your claim. If you are able to stand behind that belief, you have every to challenge the terms of an estate, even under the threats of having a clause invoked against you by the trustee.

More information on your rights as a beneficiary is available on our site.  

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