If you are filing a lawsuit pertaining to an inheritance under a Trust or Will in California there are deadlines that must be followed. These deadlines are called statutes of limitation. A statute is a written law passed by the legislature. A statute of limitations is a law prescribing a time deadline for bringing each specific type of legal action. If you do not file your lawsuit within the prescribed time, you are forever barred from bringing your claim.
The problem with inheritance lawsuits is that there are many different statutes of limitation depending of what type of claim you are bringing and which type of document (a Trust or Will) is in dispute. These deadlines can be found within the California Probate Code (PC), although they can be difficult to find if you aren’t familiar with probate law. Some common deadlines are listed below, although there are dozens of deadlines pertaining to Trust and Will lawsuits in California, so this is not an absolute list. But here is a highlight of some of the most common deadlines.
What to do if you are challenging the validity of a Trust?
If you are challenging (contesting) the validity of a Trust, you must file your claim within 120 days of the date the Trustee mailed a notification called a Statutory Notification by Trustee in accordance with Probate Code § 16061.7. This notification must contain certain elements such as the Trustee’s name, contact information, and a statement regarding the 120-day limitation. The Trustee must also send the heirs and beneficiaries copies of the Trust and any amendments/restatements. If you do not receive notification, your time frame remains open, although you still must bring your claim within a reasonable amount of time.
If you are challenging the validity of a Will, the you must file your claim either (1) before the Will is admitted to probate by the Court, or (2) within 120 days of the Will being admitted to probate in accordance with Probate Code § 8270. If the Will is never admitted to probate, the statutory “clock” does start running. However, if the Will is not admitted to probate, assets typically cannot be transferred.
What to do if you are filing a claim against the Trustee?
If you are filing a claim against the Trustee for any type of mismanagement, such as breach of Trust, misappropriating Trust assets, refusing to distribute assets, refusing to follow the terms of the Trust, favoritism or unfair treatment of beneficiaries, stealing, or self-dealing, the statutory deadline is three years from the date you first had knowledge (or should have known) you had a claim in accordance with Probate Code § 16460. There is an exception to the three-year statute of limitation: sometimes Trusts have certain language that allows the Trustee to limit the time frame to 180 days after an accounting is mailed to you if the Trustee provides written notification about the shortened time frame in accordance with Probate Code § 16461(c).
If a lawsuit is filed in a timely manner, there are multiple deadlines during the litigation process that can be found in the California Code of Civil Procedure. The deadlines can be confusing, and it is very easy to miss a deadline. If you miss a deadline, you can destroy your legal claim. If you believe you have a valid claim pertaining to an inheritance in California, it is best to consult with a licensed attorney experienced in Trust and Estate law as soon as possible. Don’t sit on your rights and risk missing an important deadline.