The loss of a loved one is a gut-wrenching experience. To make matters worse, the loss of a loved one may lead to a hotly contested probate dispute, causing you to endure the pain of loss for longer than necessary.
A probate matter in the California Court System can take anywhere from nine and eighteen months, or even longer, to complete, and this timeline does not consider additional hurdles such as the backlog of cases caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
If you are considering contesting a will or trust following the loss of your loved one, you may find much-needed guidance by working with a Woodland Hills, California estate planning and estate litigation attorney. At The Law Offices of Kenneth W. Drake, Inc., I routinely help clients with estate planning, such as the creation of a will or trust. I am also an estate litigation attorney who represents clients in contentious probate matters. For skilled representation in and around Woodland Hills, as well as throughout the San Fernando Valley, reach out to me.
Before getting a handle on the estate administration process, it is a good idea to know what estate disputes to expect if you find yourself involved in a fight over a loved one’s estate. Common estate/probate disputes California courts see include, among others, the following:
Will/trust contest that asserts a will or trust is invalid under California law;
Disagreement over who is the proper executor or administrator of the estate;
A surviving spouse and/or children dispute the meaning of a deceased loved one’s will or trust; and
Allegations that the executor or administrator of the estate has breached fiduciary duties.
A Woodland Hills estate litigation attorney can provide you with legal options and alleviate much of the stress you may be facing in a probate dispute.
Estate administration is the finalization of a deceased person’s life in terms of assets and financial responsibilities. If your deceased loved one had an uncontested trust in California, the estate may be administered without the need for probate. On the other hand, if your loved one did have a last will and testament, the estate will need to be probated in court.
Estate administration that requires probate involves the following steps:
Determination of whether a will exists and whether the will is valid;
Identification of heirs and beneficiaries;
Valuation of property identified as part of the estate;
Identification of the estate’s debts and other financial responsibilities; and
The transfer of assets to heirs and beneficiaries.
If no will exists, California law will govern how your loved one’s estate is administered, such as identifying the administrator and determining how assets will be distributed amongst surviving spouses, children, and other qualifying beneficiaries.
Under California law, any interested parties to a will or trust can contest the document in probate court. An interested party is someone who benefits from an earlier will being deemed the controlling document or someone who is an heir not identified in the current will. The person contesting a will has the burden of proving grounds exist to find the will invalid under California law.
Pursuant to California Probate Code section 8252(a), you must prove one or more of the following when contesting a will/trust:
The decedent lacked mental capacity at the time the will was written and signed;
The will is subject to fraud;
The will was written and signed under duress;
The will has a material mistake such as omission of a key provision that gives you something your loved one intended you to have; or
The will has been revoked by a later document.
If you are a surviving spouse, it is important for you to know that your spousal rights are protected under California law. Speak with an estate planning and estate litigation attorney to have a better understanding of your legal rights following the death of your spouse.
Contesting a will or trust on your own can be daunting. If you wish to contest a will or simply have questions or concerns about the validity or legality of a will, trust, or other document, it is essential to work with a lawyer. At the Law Offices of Kenneth W. Drake, Inc., I will thoroughly review your potential legal matter and help you and your family move forward. If you live in and around Woodland Hills and the San Fernando Valley, including Los Angeles, Ventura, and Santa Barbara counties, set up an appointment.