Recently, major changes have been made to California’s probate code and courts. In the past, people who felt cheated out of an inheritance had limited options for recourse. However, the state Supreme Court’s finding has upturned precedent. Now, California allows people who were not named beneficiaries to a trust to file a probate challenge against their exclusion. California Trust & Estate Administration Lawyer Kavesh Minor & Otis

You Don’t Need to Be a Beneficiary to Challenge a Trust

For a long time, California’s probate code stipulated that only a person named as a beneficiary to a trust had the legal right to challenge the trust’s conditions, control, and asset disbursement. 

In 2018, a federal Court of Appeals made a momentous decision in the case of Barefoot v. Jennings. In its ruling, the bench said that only current beneficiaries to a trust could use the California Probate Code to initiate a trust contest. However, the state Supreme Court recently overturned this ruling.

Now, people who have been disinherited—or otherwise excluded from a trust—are permitted to file trust contests, provided they would become a beneficiary if the court were to rule in their favor.

Why Barefoot vs. Jennings’ Reversal Is Important

The initial ruling in Barefoot vs. Jennings came with a lot of implications. Only named trust beneficiaries were able to initiate contests, so people who were wrongfully disinherited had no means to challenge the trust.

While trusts are typically harder to challenge than wills, prospective beneficiaries can still stake a claim if they believe the trust was compromised through:

  • Fraud
  • Duress
  • The trustor was not of sound mind at the time of the trust’s signing or alteration

The California Supreme Court’s reconsideration of Barefoot vs. Jennings means that people who have the legal grounds to claim they were wrongfully excluded from a trust can now challenge the trust—even if they are not among its named beneficiaries.

Do You Need The Help Of A Trust & Estate Administration Attorney In California?

If you need legal help with an estate or trust issue you should speak with an experienced trust and estate administration attorney as soon as possible. Contact us online or call our office directly at 800.756.5596 to claim your space at one of our free, informative seminars. Your attendance will qualify you for a discount for our estate and trust administration services. We proudly serve clients throughout California with offices in Torrance, Newport Beach, Orange, Woodland Hills and Pasadena.


Philip J. Kavesh
Nationally recognized attorney helping clients with customized estate planning guidance for over 40 years.