Navigating the Complexities of Trust Administration: Why a Heggstad Petition Might Be the Answer You’re Looking For


When a loved one passes away, navigating the complexities of trust administration can be overwhelming, especially during a time of grief. For California residents, one of the most common questions that arise is how to transfer assets into a trust when the trustor (the person who created the trust) has passed away without properly doing so. This is where the Heggstad Petition comes into play.

What is a Heggstad Petition?

A Heggstad Petition, named after the groundbreaking Estate of Heggstad case in 1993, is a legal tool that allows beneficiaries to transfer assets into a trust after the trustor’s death, even if the assets were not formally transferred during the trustor’s lifetime. This petition is filed with the probate court and requires clear and convincing evidence of the trustor’s intent to include the assets in the trust.

Why Would Someone Seek a Heggstad Petition?

There are several reasons why a California resident might seek a Heggstad Petition:

  1. Incomplete or Improper Transfer of Assets: One of the most common reasons is that the trustor failed to properly transfer an asset into the trust before their death. This could be due to oversight, procrastination, or simply not understanding the necessary steps to transfer the asset. In such cases, a Heggstad Petition allows beneficiaries to correct this mistake and ensure the asset is included in the trust as intended.
  1. Avoiding Probate: If an asset is not formally transferred into the trust, it may be subject to the time-consuming and costly probate process. Probate is the legal process of distributing a deceased person’s assets, and it can take several months to a year or more to complete. By using a Heggstad Petition to transfer the asset into the trust post-death, beneficiaries can avoid probate and streamline the distribution of the estate.
  1. Fulfilling the Trustor’s Wishes: The primary purpose of a trust is to ensure that the trustor’s assets are distributed according to their wishes. When an asset is left out of the trust due to error or oversight, it may not be distributed as the trustor intended. A Heggstad Petition helps ensure that the trustor’s intentions are carried out, even if certain formalities were not observed during their lifetime.
  1. Reducing Family Conflict: Disputes over the distribution of assets can arise when an asset is not properly included in the trust. Family members may disagree about who should receive the asset or how it should be distributed. By using a Heggstad Petition to clarify the trustor’s intent and transfer the asset into the trust, beneficiaries can reduce the potential for conflict and ensure a smoother, more harmonious distribution process.
  1. Preserving Estate Value: The probate process can be expensive, eroding the value of the estate. Attorney fees, court costs, and other expenses can quickly add up, leaving less for beneficiaries. By transferring assets into the trust through a Heggstad Petition, beneficiaries can help preserve the value of the estate and ensure that more of the assets are distributed to the intended recipients.

What Questions Might a California Resident Have About Heggstad Petitions?

If you’re a California resident dealing with trust administration, you might have several questions about Heggstad Petitions:

  1. What assets can be transferred using a Heggstad Petition? Heggstad Petitions can be used to transfer a wide variety of assets, including real estate, bank accounts, investment accounts, and personal property. As long as there is clear and convincing evidence of the trustor’s intent to include the asset in the trust, a Heggstad Petition can be used to transfer it.
  1. How do I prove the trustor’s intent to include an asset in the trust? Proving the trustor’s intent is crucial to the success of a Heggstad Petition. Some common forms of evidence include:
  • A schedule of assets attached to the trust document that lists the asset in question
  • Written or verbal statements from the trustor expressing their intent to include the asset in the trust
  • Testimony from witnesses who can attest to the trustor’s intent
  • Incomplete or improperly executed transfer documents that demonstrate an attempt to transfer the asset
  1. How long does the Heggstad Petition process take? The timeline for a Heggstad Petition varies depending on the complexity of the case and the court’s schedule. On average, the process takes between 4-6 months from filing to the court’s decision. However, it can take longer if there are objections or complications.
  1. Do I need an attorney to file a Heggstad Petition? While it is possible to file a Heggstad Petition without an attorney, it is highly recommended to seek legal counsel. Trust and estate law can be complex, and an experienced attorney can help ensure that your petition is properly prepared and presented to the court. They can also help you navigate any challenges or objections that may arise during the process.
  1. What happens if my Heggstad Petition is denied? If your Heggstad Petition is denied, you may have other options, such as filing a different type of petition or proceeding with a full probate. An attorney can help you understand your options and determine the best course of action based on your specific circumstances.


The Heggstad Petition is a valuable tool for California residents seeking to transfer assets into a trust after the trustor’s death. By understanding the purpose and requirements of a Heggstad Petition, you can ensure that your loved one’s wishes are carried out and avoid the time and expense of a full probate proceeding.

If you’re considering filing a Heggstad Petition or have questions about trust administration, it’s important to seek the guidance of an experienced estate planning attorney. They can help you navigate the complexities of the process and ensure that your petition has the best chance of success.

Remember, the goal of a Heggstad Petition is to honor the trustor’s intentions and ensure that their assets are distributed according to their wishes. By taking the time to understand this powerful legal tool, you can help preserve your loved one’s legacy and provide peace of mind for yourself and your family during a difficult time.

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