Trusts and Estates

Hamilton v. Green

Cite as B323621
Filed December 28, 2023
Second District, Div. Four

By Erika J. Gasaway
Hopkins & Carley

Headnote:  Deadline for Civil Complaint Based on Invalidity of Instrument

Summary:  A civil complaint was “an action to contest a trust” within the meaning of Probate Code section 16061.8 because “the practical effect” of the complaint was a challenge to the validity of the trust instrument, and it was therefore subject to the 120-day deadline.

The settlor created a trust whereby if either of her two children predeceased her, then that child’s share would be distributed to his or her descendants.  An amendment stated that if only one child survived the settlor, then the surviving child would inherit the entire estate.  The settlor’s son predeceased her.  After the settlor’s death, the trustee served a trustee notification pursuant to Probate Code section 16061.7 on the settlor’s heirs.  After expiration of the 120-day period set forth in Probate Code section 16061.8, the predeceased son’s children filed a civil complaint alleging (1) interference with inheritance rights; (2) interference with prospective economic advantage; (3) interference with contract; (4) conversion; (5) quiet title; (6) breach of fiduciary duty; and (7) an accounting.  All causes of action required the trial court to find the trust amendment was invalid.  The trial court sustained the trustee’s demurrer without leave to amend on the grounds the complaint was time barred by the 120-day deadline under Probate Code section 16061.8.

The appellate court affirmed.  The “practical effect” of the civil complaint was to challenge the validity of the amendment.  If the amendment was valid, the plaintiffs had no interest in the trust and no right to relief.  The appellate court expressly rejected applying the definition of a “direct contest” set forth in Probate Code section 21310, which governs no contest clauses, as inapplicable to the analysis.

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