Riverside v. Snukst: A Lesson on How to Avoid Trust Disputes

In the recent case of Riverside County Public Guardian v. Snukst, a California appellate Court resolved an issue involving the Medi-Cal program, which is California’s version of the federal Medicaid program. The program is overseen by the California Department of Health Services. In Riverside, the Department of Health Services pursued payment from a revocable inter vivos trust for the benefits provided on behalf of a person during his life. After the man’s death, the probate required the assets in the revocable inter vivos trust be passed on to the sole beneficiary instead of the Department of Health. 

The Court of Appeals determined that federal and state law involving revocable inter vivos trusts required the Department of Health receive funds from the trust before any distribution to the beneficiary. Subsequently, the judgment was reversed and remanded.

For trusts to work as a person wants, the trust must avoid future disagreements and disputes among those impacted by the trust’s terms. This article reviews some of the best things that you can do to avoid trust disputes.

# 1 – Discuss Your Plans With Those Impacts

The best place to begin avoiding trust disputes is through communication. You should let your family members, loved ones, and anyone else impacted by the trust understand your goals. While it’s often difficult to have conversations about estate planning goals with family members, engaging in these chats is much better than leaving others unprepared. If you cannot effectively communicate with your loved ones, your estate planning lawyer should help you navigate estate planning conversations.

# 2 – Include a Statement Explaining Your Goals

After establishing your trust, you should take the effort to include a statement explaining your estate planning goals. If you handwrite this statement, it will help to avoid disputes about whether or not you wrote this statement. These statements should be viewed as personal messages to your loved ones. By writing these messages and providing insight into your estate planning strategy, you can avoid disagreements. 

# 3 – Avoid Including Beneficiaries in Planning

You can greatly reduce arguments that your estate plans were made undue influence if you keep all beneficiaries away from the planning process. Instead, you should utilize an attorney to help you engage in the estate planning process.  Nothing helps courts resolve undue influence arguments quicker than seeing a person switch estate planning attorneys without reason. 

# 4 – Receive an Evaluation from a Forensic Psychologist

Despite how you feel now, questions can arise about whether you are of sound mind and body. While it might seem like a frightening prospect to have your mental state evaluated, doing so can greatly help to avoid estate planning disputes. If questions exist about your mental capacity, you can retain a forensic psychologist to assess and grant you a clear bill of health. At the least, you should have a medical provider write you a note to assess your capacity. If you do not receive a clear bill, it’s best to know ahead of your incapacity or death. This way you can appoint a successor trustee to establish an estate plan.

Contact an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney

If you or your loved one needs the assistance of an experienced estate planning attorney, you should not hesitate to contact Ettinger Law Firm today to schedule a free case evaluation.


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