Trusts and Estates

Ca. Trs. & Estates Quarterly 2019, Volume 25, Issue 2

MCLE ARTICLE: HOW COULD I DANCE WITH ANOTHER, WHEN I SAW NO STANDING THERE?

By Julie R. Woods, Esq.*

I. INTRODUCTION

Trust litigators have been operating under an assumption that any party with a pecuniary interest in the outcome of a probate proceeding in rem has standing to bring a claim pursuant to Probate Code section 48. However, there is language lurking in the Probate Code that limits standing and supersedes the section 48 "interested person" principle.

Barefoot v. Jennings1 demonstrated the limitation on standing provided in Probate Code section 17200, the primary statute that is the starting point for most trust litigation. The Court of Appeal, Fifth Appellate District, held that the literal language of Probate Code section 17200 provides that "a trustee or beneficiary of a trust may petition the court under this chapter."2 Thus, by the court’s analysis, only a trustee or a beneficiary, as defined by the Probate Code, may bring a claim concerning the operative version of a trust.3 Therefore, a former beneficiary who is disinherited by an amended trust lacks standing to file a petition under Probate Code section 17200 as that person is neither a trustee nor a beneficiary in accordance with a literal reading of Section 17200.4

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