Probate Litigation Lawyers in California
When an individual dies, there may be various reasons that the settlement of the estate and distribution of their assets may be handled in California probate court. If there is a dispute about a will or trust, it is handled in probate court.
If your inheritance is at risk, you need the guidance of a knowledgeable probate litigation attorney. Albertson & Davidson provides an experienced California probate litigation team that has earned a reputation for aggressive courtroom skills to meet the needs of our clients. Our attorneys focus on handling complex estate and inheritance litigation matters involving probate, wills, and trusts.
If you are involved in a probate dispute or you have concerns about a recently deceased loved one’s will, trust or estate, an attorney from Albertson & Davidson can help. We often hear from prospective clients who have questions after receiving a Notice of Administration stating that any objections to upcoming probate proceedings must be raised. You need not wait. You should consult a probate litigation attorney any time you have concerns about what a loved one is doing or has done regarding the distribution of significant assets in an estate.
Our probate litigation lawyers at Albertson & Davidson assist clients throughout California from offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego County, Orange County and Silicon Valley. Contact us today at (800) 601-0170 or online for a free and confidential consultation.
What is Probate in California?
Probate is the legal oversight of the transfer of a deceased person’s assets. In many cases, the deceased has left a will that directs how he or she wanted specific assets and personal property distributed. For example, a will names beneficiaries and what assets they are to receive. A trust appoints a successor trustee who takes over the administration of the trust and its assets.
If there is a will, it should name an executor, who must file the will with the local probate court. The court will appoint an individual, usually the named executor, to administer the deceased’s estate. This involves ensuring debts and taxes are paid, collecting money owed the estate, and reporting on the status of the estate to the court as it is dissolved. The executor ensures that the assets of the estate are divided and distributed as required by the will.
If the individual died without a will, the deceased is said to have died “intestate.” The probate court will appoint an administrator who is tasked with identifying legal heirs to the deceased, in addition to settling the estate’s debts and taxes. The probate court will determine how and to whom assets from the estate are to be distributed. The distribution is typically according to a succession of kinship to the deceased, i.e., spouse, children, parents, and then siblings, as required by state law.
In California probate often essentially consists of filing probate forms and attesting to their contents in a hearing. However, when there are disputes about the contents of a will or trust or the actions of the administrator of an estate or a trustee, those with legal claims to portions of the estate have a right to be heard by a probate court. This is probate litigation. It requires attending a hearing and providing documentation and testimony as evidence to support the claim.
Do I Need a Probate Litigation Attorney?
Probate does not always require a hearing before a judge. But a hearing may be necessary if there are questions about the deceased’s intentions for division of their assets or there are conflicts over who should be considered a legal heir to the estate.
There are innumerable possibilities for a dispute to arise as a family sets about settling the affairs of a deceased loved one. Heirs may fight over the disposition of property and funds. Family members may find themselves at odds with the estate administrator.
The probate litigation lawyers of Albertson & Davidson typically assist clients with matters regarding:
Contesting a Will. An interested party can contest a will in California by moving immediately after the deceased’s death to object to the executor’s petition to probate the will. If probate has already occurred, it is possible to contest a will within 120 days of the hearing date. After such a petition, other parties (potential heirs, creditors to the estate) are notified and may file their own petitions. A petition must state objections and set forth grounds for opposing the will as written. A will is presumed to be valid, so a challenge has a high burden of proof.
Contesting a Trust. Trusts are typically established as a means of conveying assets from one generation to the next (or to a charity or other such organization) without going through the California probate process. Contesting a trust requires drafting and filing a lawsuit in probate court that details the grounds for challenging a trust and what the probate court should do to grant the petitioner relief.
There are multiple potential grounds for challenging a will’s or a trust’s validity. They include:
- Undue influence / elder abuse. It may be proper to question changes to a will or trust established late in a person’s life, particularly if the changes unduly benefit someone whose importance in the person’s life is a recent development. California law defines undue influence as overcoming an elderly or infirm person’s free will and persuading them to give the bad actor money, houses or other property. A will written under duress, such as by the imposition of threats or injury, is also invalid. California elder abuse laws can be used to ensure that assets pass to the rightful heirs.
- Mental incapacity. A will or trust may be invalidated if the individual lacked the capacity to understand and agree to the consequences of his or her decisions at the time it was drafted or amended. This requires evidence that the individual suffered from senility or dementia or was under the influence of certain medications at the time.
- Fraud. If an unscrupulous beneficiary made a false statement to a person making a will to ensure a will or trust was worded to benefit them, the document can be ruled invalid. If such a fraud were perpetrated to exclude or disinherit an otherwise rightful heir from a will, the probate judge may rule that the will be set aside.
- Mistaken intent. A will may be invalidated if a petitioner presents clear and convincing evidence that the document misstates the intent of the person making the will at the time the will was drafted.
- Technical mistakes. California law mandates that a will or trust document be properly signed and witnessed to be valid. If a petitioner proves technical mistakes, it is up to a proponent of the will to establish by clear and convincing evidence that the deceased had intended the document to serve as his or her will.
- Breach of fiduciary responsibility / abusive fiduciary. California law imposes strict guidelines on the responsibilities and permissible actions of an estate’s executors, trustees and conservators. These laws can be used to stop a fiduciary who is stealing from the estate, improperly distributing assets or failing to properly account for the status of the estate.
How Our Probate Litigation Lawyers Can Help You
To assist you with contesting a will or trust, your Albertson & Davidson attorney would subpoena:
- Documents from the estate planning attorney who established the will or trust
- Medical records of the person who made the will or original trustee
- Estate financial records, which may show improper activity, such as cash withdrawals by a beneficiary or other improper activity by the estate administrator.
Our attorneys would review the will or trust documents and evidence we compiled to support your claim and then consult with you about whether to proceed with a contest. Wills and trusts can be written with “no-contest” clauses, which could bar you from receiving any benefits from the estate if your challenge were unsuccessful. However, if you succeed or even if you demonstrate probable cause to contest a will or trust, the no-contest clause most likely would not be enforced. On the other hand, if you have been left out of a will or trust, there is nothing for you to lose by contesting it.
Sometimes, contesting a will or trust is your only option for standing up for your rights and getting the inheritance you are due. Our probate litigation lawyers are ready to fight for you.
Contact Our Trusted Probate Litigation Lawyers
California’s laws governing probate litigation are complicated. The knowledge and experience of the attorney representing you if you must contest a will or trust are crucial. Our founding attorneys Stewart Albertson and Keith Davidson at Albertson & Davidson LLP are trial lawyers who focus on inheritance litigation. We stand. We fight. We win.
Our law firm has offices in San Francisco, San Diego, Carlsbad, Redwood City, Irvine, and Los Angeles. Contact us online or at (877) 637-7234 for a free initial consultation.