Trusts and Estates

Ca. Trs. & Estates Quarterly 2019, Volume 25, Issue 4

BRIEF OF AMICUS CURIAE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE OF THE TRUSTS AND ESTATES SECTION OF THE CALIFORNIA LAWYERS ASSOCIATION IN SUPPORT OF PETITIONER

INTRODUCTION

The issue before this Court is whether a former beneficiary of a trust has standing under section 17200 of the Probate Code1 to bring a petition challenging the validity of amendments to the trust that resulted in her disinheritance. (Petitioner’s Opening Brief on the Merits ("OB") p. 10; Respondents’ Answer Brief on the Merits ("AB") p. 8.) The plain language of section 17200 states that only "a trustee or beneficiary of a trust may petition the court . . . concerning the internal affairs of the trust or to determine the existence of the trust." Further, under section 24(c), a "beneficiary" is "a person who has any present or future interest, vested or contingent" in a trust. The Court of Appeal read this statutory language to preclude a petition under section 17200 by a person who was formerly named as a trust beneficiary but whose interests in the trust were eliminated by subsequent amendments executed by the settlor before her death. (Barefoot v. Jennings (2018) 27 Cal.App.5th 1, 6 (Barefoot).)

However, where a petition filed under section 17200 sets forth a prima facie basis on which a would-be beneficiary has a "present or future interest" in the trust, due to the invalidity of trust amendments or any other grounds, the trial court should not dismiss the petition for lack of standing without according the petitioner an evidentiary hearing on the issue.

Long-established procedures for will contests, and for civil proceedings more generally, can guide the probate court2 in resolving standing issues raised in trust contests at the pleading stage. These procedures require the court to accept as true all factual allegations contained in the petition. If the allegations cannot support the would-be beneficiary’s standing claim, the court may dismiss the petition under section 17202. If the allegations make a prima facie showing of standing, the court must hold an evidentiary hearing on the issue.

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