After the passing of a loved one, the last thing we want to deal with is a court proceeding and a dispute regarding their Estate. Unfortunately, probate must be addressed. The Probate Court handles matters concerning wills and estates, including the distribution of assets. In California, the Probate Court also handles guardianships and Conservatorship. During the probate, the court will supervise the gathering, valuation and distribution of assets by the person named as Executor in the decedent's Will. The Will is a document that directs the disposition of a person's property after death. Such a document should be made according to law (see California Probate Code § 6100 et. seq.) and is filed in a probate court after the person has died. Depending on the amount of property involved and the ambiguity of the Will, this may be a complicated process. It will become even more complex if a someone chooses to dispute the validity of the Will or any other issue related to probate. Probate litigation also occurs when a Will and/or trust exists, but family members, beneficiaries or potential beneficiaries disagree over whether or not the Will is valid, the way it was written, persons left out of the Will intentionally or by accident, allegation of undue influence, duress, lacks capacity and leaving a loved one out of the Will or trust.
When you have a Los Angeles probate lawyer to assist and guide you through this process, there is an opportunity to ensure that your legal rights are fully protected. This may be the case whether you are a potential beneficiary or executor. An experienced attorney can address disputes and help you through probate as smoothly and swiftly as possible. In California, given recent changes in the Probate Code, you can pass up to $150,000 of property (not including real estate) without having to open probate proceeding. Instead, there is a simplified process to accomplish the transfer of decedent's property for such small estates. For real property, the limit is $50,000 that can pass without probate.
Our attorneys can skillfully resolve any issue with confidence and speed, all while aggressively protecting your rights and interests. We understand how overwhelming the loss of a loved one is, combined with the legal issues that arise during probate. With our guidance and effort, you can focus your energy on remembering your family while we work diligently to protect your future.
Time and money that may be lost if probate is handled ineffectively. Accordingly it is simply to understand why taking precautions and involving a lawyer is so important. Your loved one's estate should not be allowed to be torn apart. If there is a question or dispute regarding the validity of a decedent's Last Will and Testament, this may be referred to as a "Will contest". A Will may be challenged during Los Angeles probate proceedings for different reasons, such as the lack of proper execution of the document, lack of capacity by the decedent when he or she signed or altered the Will, or undue influence by a person who compelled, coerced or otherwise influenced the decedent into executing the Will.
Some reasons that Wills are challenged include:
Execution and form: A Will has to be in writing. Many problems associated with Wills happen because the person preparing the Will did not follow the proper procedures. There are often legal problems with Wills prepared using computer programs or "sample" Wills found on the Internet. Capacity: In order for a Will to be valid, the person named in the Will must know what he or she is doing and understand what is in the Will. In some cases, people may allege that the person making the Will was coerced, under duress or undue influence, mistaken as to facts, or lacked the mental capacity to know what he or she was doing at the time the Will was signed. Undue influence: If your loved one signed the Will, but was so controlled and dominated by another person or person acting as a trustee that he or she was not acting in the way he or she wanted, there may be a claim the Will is invalid because of undue influence. Forgery: If the signature on the Will does not belong to the testator, the Will cannot be valid.
Bringing about or challenging a Will contest may be a difficult matter, and it is one best addressed with the experienced legal counsel of a Los Angeles probate attorney. With our firm's experience and skill in handling probate and estate litigation issues, we are confident in our ability to successfully handle issues related to the validity of a Will.
In Estate of Duke July 27, 2015, the California Supreme Court determined that outside or extrinisic evidence may be used in the evaluation of a will. The facts were essentially Irving Duke, then 74 years old, prepared a holographic will providing that, upon his death, his wife (who was 58 at the time) would inherit his estate and that if he and his wife died at the same time, specific charities would inherit his estate. The handwritten will, however, contained no provision addressing the disposition of his estate if, as occurred here, he lived longer than his wife. The specified charities contend that at the time the testator wrote his will, he specifically intended to provide in his will that the charities would inherit his estate in the event his wife was not alive when he died. The courts below excluded extrinsic evidence of the testator’s intent, finding that the will was unambiguous and failed to provide for the circumstance in which his wife predeceased him. Therefore, finding that Duke died intestate, the court entered judgment in favor of the heirs at law, Seymour and Robert Radin.
Testator's holographic will provided that his wife would receive his estate, but if he and his wife died simultaneously, charities would receive his estate. The will did not provide for disposition of the estate if wife predeceased testator – which is exactly what occurred. The charities claimed they should receive the estate because testator provided for them if his wife was deceased at the time of his death. Testator's nephews claimed that the will failed, and they were entitled to receive the estate as testator’s intestate heirs. The probate court granted the nephews’ motion for summary judgment, finding that the will was unambiguous, and declined to consider extrinsic evidence of testator’s intent. The appellate court affirmed, based on Estate of Barnes (1965) 63 Cal.2d 580. The California Supreme Court reversed, and abrogated the Barnes rule that extrinsic evidence may never be introduced to reform an unambiguous will. Extrinsic evidence may be introduced to reform an unambiguous will if clear and convincing evidence establishes an error in the expression of the testator’s intent, and also establishes the testator's true intent, at the time the will was drafted.
California law allows the admission of extrinsic evidence to establish that a will is ambiguous and to clarify ambiguities in a will. (Prob. Code, § 6111.5; Estate of Russell (1968) 69 Cal.2d 200, 206-213.)
To arrange a consultation to discuss your probate questions and concerns, contact our office today at 310-914-3222 from Los Angeles or 714-280-0601 from Orange County.