February 14, 2020

Standing to Challenge a Trust

Standing is the ability of a party to file a lawsuit. It acts as a limitation on the class of litigants that can bring forth claims.
For example, a child has standing to contest a parent's will or a parent has standing to pursue a wrongful death action involving a deceased child. 

Standing is procedural in nature. That is, the substantive merits of a case are inapplicable to determining whether or not a person has standing. 

In terms of a trust, assume that a child was named a beneficiary of their parent's trust in an earlier version. Then in a later version, the child is disinherited. Following the parent's death, the child brings a petition to invalidate the trust amendment which disinherited them pursuant to Probate Code § 17200.

The applicable section reads "Except as provided in Section 15800, a trustee or beneficiary of a trust may petition the court under this chapter concerning the internal affairs of the trust or to determine the existence of the trust." Probate Code § 17200(a).

In a prior post, a California Court of Appeal decision was discussed, Barefoot v. Jennings, (2018) 27 Cal. App. 5th 1.

In that case a California trial court determined, which was upheld by the California Court of Appeal, that a disinherited child could not bring such a petition because they lacked standing. 

The California Supreme Court granted review for the case and overturned the ruling of the appellate court.

It held that the "Probate Code grants standing in probate court to individuals who claim that trust amendments eliminating their beneficiary status arose from incompetence, undue influence, or fraud." 

Barefoot v. Jennings (2020) ___ Cal.5th ___