When someone drafts a last will and testament or forms a trust, the assumption is often that the document is valid. Probate’s entire job, however, is to determine the validity of a will. Additionally, anyone who receives notice that a trust will be transferring property has the right to object.

The right to have a will or a trust contested is especially important when the bulk of someone’s estate is bequeathed to a caregiver under mysterious circumstances. Without clear and convincing evidence that the decedent wasn’t manipulated, the will or trust could be invalidated in part or in full.

Working with a San Luis Obispo probate lawyer can help you understand your legal options for contesting a will or trust. If you suspect a loved one was coerced through fraud, manipulation, or undue influence by a caregiver or someone in a similarly advantageous position, don’t hesitate to examine your options for objecting to the inheritance.

Call (805) 678-0272 or contact us online if you have questions or want guidance with disputing your loved one’s will or trust. We will provide you with an experienced probate attorney in San Luis Obispo who can inform you of your legal options during a free, no-obligation case review.

California Law Protects the Elderly and Vulnerable

One of the major ways that a will or trust can be contested in California is for a claimant to allege that the decedent was the victim of fraud or “undue influence.” 

A California state law passed in 1993 aimed to help lower the chances that someone who had power over the decedent would be able to trick or coerce them into giving away their estate.

Probate Code § 21380 specifically states that if anyone in a position of undue influence suddenly has a sizable inheritance directed their way, the action will be presumed to be the product of fraud or undue influence. 

The statutes apply to the following categories of people:

  • Anyone who drafted the instrument (will or trust), who transcribed it, or who was in a “fiduciary relationship” with the decedent when the will was transcribed
  • Someone who was a care custodian of a dependent adult and who had property transferred to them during the administration of their care or within 90 days before or after the last provision of care
  • Someone who recently entered into a relationship, marriage, or cohabitation with the decedent within 90 days of the execution of the instrument

The individual accused of fraud or undue influence can rebut the allegation, “by proving, by clear and convincing evidence, that the donative transfer was not the product of fraud or undue influence.” 

However, those contesting the will can put forth evidence to further support the presumption of fraud.

Because of this law, the California Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that a will was invalid because a caregiver had the majority of a $450,000 estate transferred to her by way of changes made to a will in the final days of the decedent’s life.

What Evidence Can Prove or Disprove Undue Influence?

Someone wanting to prove that they did not exert undue influence on the decedent should prepare to demonstrate that the decedent long held the intention to transfer the property. Many times, changes to wills are made in secret. When family members are effectively “written out” of a will, they understandably become suspicious. 

To prevent allegations of fraud or undue influence, the decedent can openly discuss their intentions with their family and acquaintances at least 90 days before they pass on. Furthermore, the decedent should make changes to their will or trust well in advance of their expected demise. These changes should be witnessed by no less than two individuals not named in the instrument and not responsible for its drafting or amendment.

The decedent can also undergo psychiatric testing prior to making changes in order to demonstrate that they have the mental capacity to understand their decisions. Documentation provided by the inheriting caregiver can further prove that the decedent had cultivated a meaningful relationship absent from undue influence or coercion. 

In the absence of such evidence, the court’s default presumption is that the instrument was changed as a result of undue influence. Further, those disputing the caregiver’s claim can provide evidence that the relationship was manipulative, that the caregiver took financial advantage of the decedent, that the caregiver has a history of fraud, or that the decedent never voiced any indication that they intended to bequeath the estate to the caregiver instead of their own flesh and blood.

Working with a San Luis Obispo Probate Lawyer to Contest a Caregiver’s Inheritance

While the law typically defaults to the side of someone who would have normally been granted an inheritance because they are a direct family member, it doesn’t mean that the trust or will can be contested without some level of effort. 

Anyone concerned about sudden changes to a loved one’s will should contact an experienced probate attorney in San Luis Obispo. With the right legal strategy, it can be difficult for the caregiver accused of undue influence to document and prove by way of clear and convincing evidence that the transfer was legitimate and just.

Learn about your legal options for contesting a will or trust during a free, no-obligation case review with a probate lawyer in San Luis Obispo near you. Schedule your free appointment now when you call (805) 678-0272 or contact us online.