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Trial Briefs: The opening shot for your California Trust or Will Lawsuit

If you are heading into trial, you will be expected to prepare and file a trial brief with the court. Every judge is a little different and some of them want specific items in the trial brief (so check your local rules and the judge’s trial preparation rules). But the basics are fairly similar throughout the State of California.

A trial brief is not meant to be your entire case in written form. Rather, it should be a synopsis of your case, the basic case facts, and a listing of the issues that you believe need to be decided by the judge (or jury) during trial.

Every legal case has elements you must prove (or the opposing party must prove if you are defending a case). In the trial brief you can lay out those elements so the court knows heading into trial what law you believe should be applied. For example, an undue influence claim now has a defined set of four elements: (1) vulnerability of the victim, (2) apparent authority of the wrongdoer, (3) actions and tactics of the wrongdoer, and (4) the equitable or fair result based on past estate planning documents and surrounding circumstances. These four elements would be laid out in a trial brief for an undue influence case with a short synopsis of the facts that will be produced during trial to support each element.

The trial brief is not evidence and will not be read by the jury (if you have a jury trial). The judge will read the brief where you have a judge-based trial, but the brief itself is not admitted as evidence. Instead, the evidence is presented during trial and admitted using the rule of evidence found in the California Evidence Code.

But even though the brief is not evidence, it is a crucial roadmap of your case that helps the judge determine what the case is about, how long it will take to conduct trial, and what issues must be decided at trial.