Why Trust Contests Occur: The Top Reasons

Trusts are powerful tools for estate planning, yet they are not immune to disputes. Trust contests, where the validity of a trust is challenged, can unsettle families and complicate estate administration. In this post, we will delve into the main reasons why trust contests occur, shedding light on this intricate aspect of probate law.

Understanding What Triggers a Trust Contest

At its core, a trust contest occurs when a party believes the trust does not accurately reflect the intentions of the person who created it. While the specifics vary from case to case, some common triggers are at the heart of most trust contests.

Inadequate Capacity: When Mind Matters

One of the most common reasons for a trust contest is the assertion that the trustor (the person who created the trust) lacked the mental capacity to do so. The legal standard for capacity can vary, but generally, the trustor must understand the nature of the trust, its implications, and the identity of the beneficiaries.

Undue Influence: The Shadows of Coercion

Undue influence refers to situations where the trustor was coerced or manipulated into creating the trust or making specific provisions within it. If it can be proven that the trustor was unduly influenced, the trust or the affected provisions may be deemed invalid.

Improper Execution: The Importance of Legal Formalities

Each state has specific legal formalities that must be followed when creating a trust. If these formalities are not met, the trust can be contested on the grounds of improper execution. This emphasizes the importance of competent legal advice during the estate planning process.

Fraud or Forgery: Deceptive Practices

Although less common, some trust contests arise from allegations of fraud or forgery. These might include situations where the trustor was deceived about the contents of the trust or where the trust documents were forged.

Ambiguity in the Trust Documents: When Clarity Counts

Ambiguities in the trust documents can lead to different interpretations, often resulting in disputes among beneficiaries. Clear, unambiguous language is essential in trust documents to ensure that the trustor’s intentions are accurately reflected.

Change in Circumstances: Life’s Curveballs

Sometimes, trust contests occur due to changes in circumstances that the trustor could not have foreseen when creating the trust. This could include the birth of new heirs, dramatic changes in the trustor’s financial situation, or even changes in law.

The Role of a Probate Attorney in Trust Contests

A probate attorney plays a vital role in trust contests, whether you’re challenging a trust or defending against a contest. They can provide guidance on the complex legal landscape, advocate for your interests, and seek to resolve the dispute in a way that respects the trustor’s intentions.


Understanding why trust contests occur is the first step in either preventing or preparing for them. Inadequate capacity, undue influence, improper execution, fraud or forgery, ambiguity in the trust documents, and changes in circumstances are the most common triggers of these disputes. An experienced probate attorney can be instrumental in navigating these complex issues, providing the legal guidance needed to uphold the intentions of the trustor.