When a person dies, any assets they have that do not belong to their trust or list a designated beneficiary become a part of their estate. Most of the time, estate assets will be distributed to beneficiaries in accordance with the provisions of a decedent’s will; however, if the decedent died without a will, they have what is called an “intestate estate,” and the assets held by the intestate estate will pass to the decedent’s heirs (which most often are the surviving spouse and children) in accordance with California intestate succession laws. Because probate laws and procedures can vary by state, it is important to have a skilled California estate lawyer in your corner to help guide you.
Regardless of the nature of your California estate litigation matter — whether you are an executor looking to be counseled about your duties, or you are a beneficiary looking to secure your rightful inheritance from a decedent’s estate — Keystone’s California estate lawyers are eager to help.
If you have been appointed as the executor/administrator of a decedent’s estate, you need an estate attorney in California to help you navigate the state’s administration and probate laws. Perhaps you need assistance preparing the required estate accountings. Perhaps you have been unable to track down some of the assets listed in the will. Perhaps you need help with a decision about whether to sell real property belonging to the estate. With an experienced California estate lawyer to provide guidance throughout the estate administration process, not only will your job become easier but you will protect yourself against liability.
When a decedent dies, the executor or administrator of their estate will control estate assets until those assets are distributed to their intended beneficiaries. To ensure that all estate assets are accounted for and that the executor or administrator isn’t misappropriating or misusing estate assets, the executor/administrator is required to periodically provide the court, beneficiaries and heirs with formal accountings. When the accountings contain red flags (e.g., there are large sums of money missing from the decedent’s bank accounts), they can be contested in court. To file such a petition, you will need the assistance of a California estate lawyer.
Executors or administrators seeking to defend their accountings can also seek help from an estate attorney. California estate accounting laws may be complicated, but negligence cannot be used as an excuse for accounting mistakes or misconduct.
Property disputes can occur in the context of California estate litigation in a variety of ways. Perhaps the decedent designated a particular asset to go to their sibling through their will, but the decedent gifted away that asset to someone else during their lifetime. Perhaps the provisions of the will are ambiguous, and it is unclear which of the decedent’s daughters should receive a particular price of property. Perhaps an asset is listed in both the decedent’s will and trust and is devised to two different people. Who should receive it? The estate beneficiaries or trust beneficiaries? Or, perhaps the decedent left their home to their children, but the children cannot agree on whether to keep it or sell it, and a partition suit needs to be brought.
Because the California estate lawyers at Keystone have a breadth of knowledge surrounding the state’s probate code, they can expertly and effortlessly navigate property disputes to help clients reach a favorable resolution, whether it be via the court or through mediation.
If there is suspicion that a decedent drastically changed their will as a result of undue influence or fraud, there may be grounds to contest the will’s validity through a court proceeding known as a will contest. A will also can be contested if the decedent lacked the necessary capacity to execute the will or codicil (i.e., amendment to the will), if the will or codicil is suspected of being a forgery, or if the will or codicil was created by mistake, among other reasons. A beneficiary or heir cannot contest a will or codicil because they do not like its terms.
A California estate attorney can inspect the will and discuss with the client the circumstances surrounding their case to determine whether they have standing ((i.e., financial stake in the estate) and valid grounds to bring a will contest.
Is the executor not communicating with beneficiaries? Do you suspect the executor or administrator to be pilfering money from the decedent’s bank accounts? Are they failing to make timely distributions? All of these are potential grounds for removing the executor or administrator, and if their actions financially harmed the estate, for surcharging them as well. To take such drastic actions, you will need the help of a qualified California estate lawyer.
Or, perhaps you are the executor or administrator, and the beneficiaries of the estate are threatening to remove and surcharge you. You, too, could benefit from the assistance of an estate attorney. California courts generally prefer to keep fiduciaries who have not done anything wrong in their role, so if it is a role you want, it is worth speaking with an estate and trust lawyer about your options.
When it comes to light that an elderly person or decedent may have been subjected to financial exploitation, it is crucial to immediately seek the help of a skilled California estate litigation lawyer.
Perhaps an elder had been scammed by a third party. Perhaps a decedent’s relative had been stealing heirlooms from the decedent’s home every time the decedent was in the hospital — an action that substantially decreased the value of the decedent’s estate. Whatever the situation, if it is suspected that an elder or a decedent had been a victim of financial exploitation, a California estate lawyer should be retained to recover the property that was lost, as well as damages. The longer you wait to seek the assistance of a probate lawyer, the harder it will be to prove your claim.
Spouses of decedents are almost always entitled to 50% of the couple’s community property (i.e., property that was acquired by either spouse over the course of a marriage). If the spouse is not distributed their proper half, then they should promptly speak with an estate lawyer. California community property laws can be difficult to navigate, but with the help of a qualified probate firm, spouses will be able to navigate them with ease.
The children and unmarried cohabitating partners of decedents are not automatically entitled to their parent’s or partner’s property, respectively, although they do have standing to fight for estate property if they believe they have a right to it. Because it can be challenging for the children and unmarried partners of decedents to fight for an inheritance on their own, they should strongly consider hiring a California estate lawyer to fight on their behalf.
One of the biggest factors to consider when deciding whether or not to engage in California estate litigation is whether the attorney’s fees and costs associated with the matter at hand are likely to drain the estate of its resources before any distributions are made. A skilled California estate lawyer can help clients with budgetary concerns determine whether litigating a particular estate matter is worth their time and money. The lawyer can also try to develop a legal strategy that veers away from prolonged litigation, which generally comes with a high price tag.
Estate litigation can be an emotional process for everyone involved. Our team of estate lawyers can handle its clients’ claims with care and delicacy. Keystone’s California estate lawyers work closely with their clients to ensure their legal needs are met.
Keystone California estate lawyers can help by:
The members of our California estate litigation team focus exclusively on the probate field of law, which allows them to excel in ways few firms can. Keystone Law Group is one of the largest probate firms in California and specializes in providing efficient and effective legal representation for all its clients. Our California estate lawyers work hard to stay up to date with ever-evolving laws and regulations in probate matters and remain diligent in fighting for their clients’ rights.
The California estate attorneys on Keystone’s team have: