Probate is the legal process typically required after an individual’s death to settle and distribute the decedent’s estate. The probate process can be costly and complicated even without disputes; however, when a dispute turns into litigation, it can wreak havoc with the administration of the estate. The Los Angeles probate attorneys at Schomer Law Group, APC explain w hat you need to know about California probate litigation.
Most people leave behind an estate when they die. Probate is the legal process by which those assets are identified, located, valued, and eventually distributed to the intended beneficiaries and/or legal heirs of the estateIf the decedent left behind a valid Last Will and Testament, the individual named as the Executor in that Will is responsible for overseeing the probate process and the terms of the Will are used to determine how the estate assets are distributed. If the decedent died intestate (without a Will), someone typically volunteers to be the Personal Representative and oversee the probate of the estate and the California intestate succession laws dictate how estate assets are distributed. If the decedent left behind a trust, assets held in the trust are not required to go through the probate process. Instead, the Trustee of the trust can distribute those assets to the named beneficiaries at any time according to the terms of the trust immediately after the Settlor’s death of the trust terms allow.
Causes of Probate Litigation
As you may well imagine, disputes can occur during the probate of an estate. In fact, the frequency with which probate litigation occurs has been increasing in recent years. Some of the more common causes of probate litigation include:
Contesting a Will. To contest a Will you must allege, and eventually prove to be successful, that the Will is legally invalid for one of several allowable grounds in the State of California. Those grounds include:
- Lack of testamentary intent or capacity
- Undue influence
When a Will contest is initiated, the entire probate process effectively grinds to a halt to focus on the challenge to the Will. Until that issue is decided one way or the other probate cannot move forward because the outcome of the Will contest determines how the estate is probate, using the terms of the Will or using the California intestate succession laws.
Contesting a Trust. A trust can be contested in much the same way, and for most of the same reason as a Will, including:
- Improper formation of the trust
- Lack of capacity
- Illegal, unconscionable, or impossible terms
- Vague terms
- Undue influence
Unlike assets distributed via a Will, assets distributed via the terms in a trust are not subject to going through the probate process. Consequently, the probate of an estate may not be directly impacted when a trust is challenged; however, the distribution of the assets held in the trust may certainly be affected.
Why Might You Be Involved in California Probate Litigation?
If you are an Executor, Personal Representative, or Trustee you have a fiduciary duty to defend the Will, trust, and/or estate throughout any litigation that may arise. To ensure that you do not make a costly mistake, retaining the services of an experienced probate litigation attorney is highly recommended. If you are a beneficiary or heir, you have a right to challenge the Will, the trust agreement, and/or the manner in which an Executor, Personal Representative, or Trustee is fulfilling his/her duties and responsibilities. To increase your chances of succeeding, you will also need the assistance of a experienced attorney.
Contact Los Angeles Probate Attorneys
For more information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have additional questions or concerns about probate litigation, contact the experienced Los Angeles probate attorneys at Schomer Law Group APCby calling (310) 337-7696 to schedule an appointment.