Are We Done Yet? How long does an average Trust or Will litigation case take to resolve in California?

The short answer is twelve to thirty-six months or more. But the specific answer varies widely based on the circumstances you confront in your case.

Done yet

It can take far longer than you like to resolve your Trust or Will litigation case. And there are a few factors that affect the length of your case. The first factor is our court system—it is jam packed with cases, and has far too little resources to efficiently handle those cases. Don’t get me wrong, our court system does a great job with the resources it has, but it’s not a perfect system. If the court had more resources, then it could give more attention to each case and thereby help each case to be resolved much faster.

Every Trust or Will litigation case revolves around court hearings. When the petition is initially filed, there will be a hearing date given when all parties have the right to appear and object, if they like. That initial hearing date must be at least 30 days after filing, but is often 45 to 60 days after filing. If a party does object at the initial hearing, then the court will grant additional time for a written objection to be prepared and filed. That puts the hearing out another 60 to 90 days. And then the court will allow time for the parties to conduct discovery, which can take another 90 to 180 days or more depending on the complexity of the case.

At some point, the court will set a trial date (or a trial setting conference where a trial date is selected). All told, it can take from 12 to 18 months before you receive a trial date. And that trial date may be continued depending on the circumstances of your case.

Aside from the court, system, the parties and other third-party witnesses can also cause the process to be delayed. For example, if someone refuses to answer discovery properly, then discovery motions must be filed. And parties typically want to resolve the discovery motions before taking any depositions.

If a third-party witness is hard to find or attempts to avoid service of a subpoena, then the deposition may be delayed until the person can be served. If the witness or a party lives out-of-state, then you have to travel to the witness’ location to take the deposition. This all takes time to make arrangements and secure the necessary court reporter services in another jurisdiction.

There can be many more issues that arise during your case that cause further delay. And every time a court order is required on a motion or other issue, there is further delay waiting for a hearing date so the court can make its ruling. It can be a bit frustrating, but the court rules are intended to ensure a fair playing field where each side is given a chance to present their evidence and arguments on each issue presented to the court.

So if you think your Trust or Will litigation case will be resolved in a couple of months, think again. That rarely happens. Instead, you should expect to be involved a minimum of 12 months, and more likely 18 to 36 months before reaching a resolution.