Estate litigation can present a challenge for many different reasons. Not every disagreement will necessarily lead to estate litigation, but there are some issues that are more likely to bring people to court than others. Whether you are facing litigation initiated by someone else or you are considering filing a lawsuit yourself, our Orange County trust and estate litigation attorneys are here to help. But, if you want to avoid estate litigation, here are three tips that may help you in that regard.
Why does estate litigation usually occur?
Generally speaking, when individuals overlook the most critical estate planning issues, that is when estate litigation arises. While an estate plan may seem to address every potential issue that may not always be the case. In order to be proactive, it is wise to make inheritance choices that will be more likely to avoid family disputes and unnecessary litigation.
Despite the intentions that most families have to remain civil with one another after the divorce of a family member, will contests and trust disputes are quite common. When a family member disagrees with how estate property is being distributed, the likely result is probate litigation. That means someone who has an interest in the estate brings their disagreement to the court to resolve.
However, if you take certain steps now you may be able to avoid many of the common disputes through proper estate planning. If you find yourself in the middle of a will contest and need legal assistance, one of our Orange County trust and estate litigation attorneys can help.
Examples of common reasons your will might be contested
There are essentially four legal grounds for challenging the validity of a will: (1) it was not signed properly, (2) there is a question about testamentary capacity, (3) there is a suspicion of undue influence in executing the will, and (4) the testator was fraudulently induced into creating the will or including certain provisions. Each of these grounds can be difficult to prove. Contesting a will can also be a very expensive court process, yet that fact does not discourage everyone.
First Tip: Make probate and non-probate transfers clear.
In order for your estate property to be transferred after your death, those inheritances will either be distributed through the probate process or through some other means. Property distributed through probate will be transferred based on the terms of your will. However, the non-probate property cannot be properly addressed through those same terms. To put it another way, if you make estate planning decisions based solely on your will and its terms, then you may be overlooking very important assets that cannot be handled through probate. If you have questions about these issues and the differences between probate and non-probate transfers, talk to our Orange County trust and estate litigation attorneys.
Second Tip: Discuss inheritance decisions with your heirs, particularly if they are unequal.
Understandably, one of the most common reasons that estate litigation arises is the perception of an unfair inheritance. When individuals believe they have been treated unfairly when it comes to inheritances, particularly when compared to siblings, the first instinct is to demand equality through the court system. However, there is no law that requires anyone to leave behind equal inheritances. In fact, you are permitted to “disinherit” anyone you so choose. But that does not stop people from initiating estate litigation to right the perceived wrong.
The best way to avoid the disputes, later on, is to discuss your choices and the reasons behind those choices so your heirs will not be surprised at the reading of your will if they do not receive what they expected to receive.
Third Tip: Be specific about family heirlooms and other personal property.
Another sore spot when it comes to inheritances and estate litigation is the transfer of family heirlooms and other personal property that has sentimental value. This is true even if that property is not especially valuable in terms of monetary gain. Our Orange County trust and estate litigation attorneys recommend that you do not simply leave it up to your family to decide who gets what. If you make that decision now and leave specific instructions about who should receive which items, you can reduce the risk of conflict later on.
Download our FREE estate planning worksheet today! If you have questions regarding estate planning, trust contests, or any other trust administration issues, please contact the Schomer Law Group either online or by calling us in Los Angeles at (310) 337-7696, and in Orange County at (562) 346-3209.
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