Estate Lawyer: Litigation Services for When Estate Disputes Arise

The administration of an estate is complicated, and disputes can pop up at nearly every turn. However, with an experienced estate litigation lawyer on your side, estate disputes can be resolved agreeably and efficiently.

Regardless of whether you are an executor or administrator, beneficiary or heir, the estate lawyers at Keystone Law Group can help enforce your rights and resolve any estate disputes that arise.


  • Perhaps a testator executed a new will in the last few days of their life under unusual circumstances. Can the beneficiaries of the old will contest the new will?
  • Perhaps a decedent designated a beneficiary for a bank account that was also identified on the decedent’s will as an asset of their estate. Can the beneficiaries of the will fight the beneficiary designation in court?
  • Perhaps the executor sold the decedent’s house for less than market value without checking with the beneficiaries of the will first. Can the beneficiaries hold the executor responsible for the damage caused to the estate?
  • Perhaps the executor of a decedent’s estate is breaching their duties to the beneficiaries. Can you remove them as executor?

 

We’ll answer these questions and more in the following guide to estate litigation. Reach out to the team at Keystone Law Group for more information today.

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Defintion

What Is Estate Litigation?

Estate is an umbrella term for the assets a decedent owns at the time of their death. An executor or administrator is the person appointed by the court to manage the decedent’s assets, pay creditors and ultimately distribute assets to the beneficiaries. When estate disputes arise between interested parties, and an agreement cannot be reached, it may become necessary to litigate. 

Estate litigation refers to any estate-related actions brought to probate court.

Estate litigation can surface whether or not the decedent had a will. If the decedent had a trust, and there are disputes between the trustee and the beneficiaries, then you may need our trust litigation services.

What We Do

Why Do You Need an Estate Lawyer?

Wills pass through a process known as probate, a form of court supervision that must be completed before the decedent’s property can be distributed to the beneficiaries. Due to the complexity of probate laws, the process can be challenging, time-consuming and expensive, and can potentially lead to disagreements between interested parties.

A skilled estate litigation lawyer can help you efficiently tackle any obstacles that come up. We touch on some of the ways estate attorneys can help resolve estate disputes below.

Counseling Executors / Administrators

When a decedent has a will, an executor is responsible for administering the decedent’s estate. When a decedent does not have a will, or if a decedent has a will but the executor cannot act for any reason, the person responsible for administering the estate will be the court-appointed administrator. Executors and administrators can be beneficiaries or people not on the will.

Being an executor or administrator comes with a whole host of responsibilities. If they ignore their duties or perform them negligently, the consequences can be dire. An estate lawyer can help executors and administrators meet their obligations to the estate and provide counsel regarding any estate disputes that arise.

Learn more about the duties and obligations of executors and administrators.

Accounting Disputes

Executors and administrators are obliged to keep track of estate assets, keep beneficiaries updated and keep accurate accountings of every penny that enters and leaves during administration. 

In most cases, executors and administrators must file their accountings with the court and obtain court approval for their accountings. In order to prepare “code-compliant” accountings, executors and administrators must follow complex probate provisions to a tee, as well as local rules, which can vary county to county. 

Below are some of the ways estate lawyers can help streamline estate accounting.

  • Preparation of code-compliant estate accountings
  • Defense of estate accountings
  • Analysis of complex accountings for beneficiaries 
  • Challenging inadequate accountings
  • Challenging the financial decisions of executors and administrators

Learn more about estate accounting disputes.

Property Disputes

Disputes over assets, such as real estate, can emerge over the course of estate administration. They may involve executors or administrators, beneficiaries and/or third parties. 

Without an experienced estate lawyer on your side, litigating a property dispute can drain an estate’s resources. We touch on some of the problematic circumstances that can cause property disputes below. 

  • When it is discovered that the decedent gave away an asset when alive (e.g., the decedent’s home is in someone else’s name)
  • When a decedent changed a beneficiary designation (e.g., a bank account or life insurance policy) at a time when they lacked competency just prior to their death

Learn more about estate property disputes.

Will Contests

Before the probate administration process can begin, the decedent’s will must be admitted to probate — i.e., the court must determine that the document provided is valid and the true last will and testament of the decedent. When interested parties disagree about the validity of a will offered for probate, anyone with standing (i.e., financial stake in the estate matter) can bring what is called a will contest to invalidate the entire will or portions of it.

If you believe misconduct or a lack of competency to have compromised the validity of will, it is essential you get in touch with an estate lawyer to go over your options and devise an estate litigation strategy. Below are some common grounds for contesting a will.

  • It is suspected that undue influence, fraud, duress or another form of misconduct played a role in the drafting or execution of the will
  • The terms of a will are vague or unconventional (e.g., large gifts are left to beneficiaries outside the family)
  • There is evidence elder abuse could be behind the decedent’s decision to alter their will or execute a new one
  • The will violates the inheritance rights of spouses and/or children
  • Gifts are left to disqualified persons (i.e., caregivers, fiduciaries or estate planners)
  • Read more about Trust and Will Contests

Learn more about will contests.

Removal and Surcharge

It is a good idea for executors and administrators to regularly consult with an estate lawyer during the estate administration process, because if an executor or administrator causes damage to the estate in any way, they may be held personally liable for damages (“surcharges”) and removed from their post.

Before bringing a claim to remove or surcharge an executor or administrator, consider the questions below. If any of the following apply to your situation, consult with an estate attorney to review your options.

  • Did the executor or administrator compromise the property of the estate in any way?
  • Is the executor or administrator seeking fees for “extraordinary services” that seem unreasonable?
  • Is the executor or administrator properly distributing assets?
  • Is the executor or administrator incompetent?

Elder Abuse Claims

If it seems likely that an elderly testator was subjected to elder abuse that resulted in damage to their estate, it is possible for beneficiaries or executors/administrators to bring a claim against the person or entity they believe to be the culprit.

Below you will find common manifestations of elder financial abuse. Consult with an estate litigation attorney to learn about the types of claims that may apply to your particular matter.

  • The beneficiaries believe the testator had been exploited by opportunistic third parties to enter into suspicious business agreements
  • Executors discover assets listed in the will to be missing
  • A caretaker is accused of committing elder abuse in order to obtain an inheritance 

Learn more about our elder financial abuse services.

Spouses, Children and Unmarried Couples

Surviving spouses and children of decedents may have a right to inherit, even if they are not in the decedent’s will. Unmarried couples, especially ones in long-term relationships who live together, are sometimes entitled to an inheritance; an estate attorney can help enforce their inheritance rights.

We break down the inheritance rights of spouses, children and unmarried couples below.

  • Surviving spouses are almost always entitled to a share of the assets, since the assets acquired over the course of a marriage are considered community property. 
  • Children are generally entitled to an inheritance unless they were left out of a valid will. In certain situations, children who were inadvertently omitted from a will may also be entitled to inherit. Regardless of whether children were intentionally or unintentionally omitted from the will, they have standing to fight for an inheritance with help from an estate lawyer. 
Who We Help

Who Our Estate Attorneys Represent

Keystone’s estate lawyers can serve as an excellent resource for anyone involved in an estate dispute. If it comes down to it, they can also help litigate or defend any claims. Keystone’s estate attorneys go above and beyond to enforce the rights of their clients and provide support throughout the entire estate litigation process.

Executor / Administrator

The chief duty of executors and administrators is to protect the decedent’s estate during the administration process. This means they should only involve themselves in an estate dispute or estate litigation if the estate’s assets are at stake. 

Our estate lawyers can counsel executors and administrators who are uncertain about whether or not they should involve themselves in an estate dispute. They can also represent executors or administrators who are defending the estate or bringing claims against beneficiaries or third parties who have compromised the estate’s assets.

Executor / Administrator
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Beneficiary / Heir

Anyone who stands to inherit from a decedent’s will is called a beneficiary. Executors and administrators owe fiduciary duties to beneficiaries, which means that their decisions should align with the beneficiaries’ best interests. 

Heirs may also be entitled to an inheritance, even if they are not included on the will. An estate lawyer can help provide them clarification about their inheritance rights and fight for the inheritances they’re owed.

In estate disputes, our estate attorneys represent beneficiaries and heirs who are bringing claims against interested parties (i.e., other beneficiaries or executors/administrators) and beneficiaries who are defending claims made against them.

Beneficiaries
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Spouse / Unmarried Partner

Regardless of whether they are on the will, surviving spouses may be entitled to a share of the decedent’s estate. Because assets acquired over the course of a marriage are considered community property, decedents can only distribute their half of the estate through their will. However, a surviving spouse may have given up their community property rights in a pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement.

Cohabitating partners don’t share the same rights as spouses, although if they have a written, oral or implied agreement between them about one partner inheriting some or all of the deceased partner’s assets, an estate lawyer can help enforce that agreement in court and obtain for them the inheritance that had been agreed upon by both partners.

Spouse
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Our Work

Case Studies of Our Estate Services

Being caught up in an estate dispute can be time-consuming, expensive and extremely stressful. But with an estate litigation lawyer on your side to do the heavy lifting, the process can be made easier and more cost-effective. Keep reading or schedule a free consultation with our estate attorneys to learn more about the estate services we offer.

Justice for Financially Abused Decedent

Our client was the sister of the decedent, as well as the administrator of his $50 million estate. She believed her brother, the decedent, had been financially abused prior to his death by two strangers acting as caretakers who had befriended him for the sole purpose of exploiting him. 

Toward the end of the decedent’s life, the decedent had been suffering from serious mental illness that had robbed him of most of his mental faculties and made him extremely vulnerable to the undue influence of others. When the decedent had hit rock bottom and needed real help, the two conmen – posing as the decedent’s “friends” and pseudo-caregivers – moved into decedent’s home and slowly began to take over his life. 

The abusers were able to siphon from the decedent – both before and after the decedent’s untimely death – millions of dollars in money and property using fraudulent power of attorney documents. Keystone was hired to help appoint the client as the administrator and recover the assets that were missing.

Shortly after getting the client appointed as administrator, Keystone’s estate lawyers helped convince the court to appoint a third-party receiver who was able to recover approximately $2 million in stolen property from the decedent’s abusers. Thereafter, Keystone helped settle the case on terms that were beyond favorable to its client. In addition to the $2 million in assets seized on behalf of the estate, the caretakers agreed to a judgment for an additional $1 million in damages. It was a resounding victory, to say the least.

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Interpreting a Vague Will Document

Our client was the son of the decedent and the executor of his estate. He came to us for help because the wording of his father’s will was unclear about who was to receive the multi-unit property he owned in Santa Monica. 

At the time of his death, the decedent had been residing in one of the units with his long-term registered domestic partner. The will provided for her to have use and enjoyment of the property during her lifetime, but it also gave the executor the right to sell the property. Problems emerged because immediately following the death of the decedent, the domestic partner moved out of the state to be with her children, effectively abandoning her use of the property. 

Keystone argued that the decedent’s will merely granted the domestic partner a right of occupancy in the property — i.e., a right to possess the property — which she had waived by abandoning the property. The domestic partner, on the other hand, claimed she had a life estate in the property — i.e., a right to own the property for her lifetime —effectively enabling her to come and go as she pleased.

Because an agreement could not be reached between the two parties, Keystone proceeded to file a petition for instruction with the court. Keystone’s compelling arguments helped secure a favorable settlement that permitted its client to sell the property. The domestic partner received only a small portion of the proceeds.

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Our Clients

Testimonials for Our Estate Services

"From start to finish of my already challenging trust situation, they have provided me with nothing but great service."

I am very appreciative of the service Keystone Law Group has provided me. I appreciate a law firm that is attentive and upfront with communication. Thank you for all of your help. I am glad that this is all over.”

Dana |
Beneficiary
“Roee Kaufman is a Rockstar at his craft."

“He assisted my mother and I through a treacherous battle against my aunt. He gracefully brought closure to a very nasty situation and we thank our lucky stars for him. He was so nice and thoughtful throughout the whole process. When a friend or client is in need of a probate attorney, I only refer Roee Kaufman of Keystone Law Group. Thank you Roee and Keystone Law Group for all that you have done for our family.”

Nicole |
Beneficiary
"I had done a bit of my own research and scouted around 10 separate probate groups before finding Keystone."

“I felt secure, and all of my questions were met with quick, detailed and overly adequate responses. Planned and precise. Above and beyond. I gave him my full control and confidence. Happy with the outcome and glad to have gotten a great deal of my own experience while going through all of this.”

Shawn |
Heir
“This is a law firm I will not hesitate to refer to anyone."

“BEST LAW FIRM. Two years ago, I emailed Keystone Law Group regarding several family estate matters. My attorney at that time was discouraging me for reasons that did not make sense. I knew what was happening to me was wrong and could not just let it go. The following day, after speaking with Keystone, my current attorney was released and Keystone Law became my counsel. It was the best decision I made.”

Stacey |
Spouse
About Us

Our Estate Litigation Firm

Keystone Law Group dedicates its practice to probate law. Our expert knowledge in the field enables us to better assist our clients and help them obtain the outcomes they want. Read more about Keystone’s estate litigation services below.

Our Estate Lawyers

Our estate attorneys know estate litigation better than anyone. Whether you are an executor or administrator who needs assistance with preparing estate accountings, a beneficiary who needs help understanding the terms of the will, or an heir who wants to bring a will contest for being left out of the will, our estate lawyers can help. The following are just a few notable accomplishments by members of our team.

  • They have been named certified specialists in Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Law (State Bar of California, Board of Legal Specialization).
  • They have spoken on probate law topics for attorneys, CPAs and other professionals.
  • They have instructed law students about wills and trusts.
  • They are habitually recognized by attorney-focused trade publications, such as Super Lawyers MagazineBest Lawyers and Daily Journal.
Areas We Serve

Our lawyers specialize in California estate litigation. Our clients come from all over California, including:

  • Los Angeles County
  • Riverside County
  • Ventura County
  • Orange County
  • San Bernardino County
  • San Diego County

If your county isn’t listed above, but you’re in California, reach out to us to see if our estate litigation lawyers may still be able to serve you.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Estate Litigation FAQs

While no two estate disputes are identical, clients inquiring about our estate services ask many of the same questions. Keep reading for our responses to the most frequently asked questions about estate litigation.

How much does estate litigation cost?

The answer to this question can depend on a variety of factors, such as:

  • Is your case complex or relatively straightforward?
  • Why types of assets are at stake? How much are these assets worth?
  • How many interested parties will be involved in the dispute?
  • Is more than one claim being brought? If so, how many?
  • Is the opposing party unwilling to budge or are they open to negotiating?

Don’t let the potential costs of estate litigation stop you from consulting with an estate lawyer. There may be a way to resolve your estate dispute without breaking the bank. An estate lawyer can present you with budget-friendly options for moving forward after learning more about your case.

To obtain a cost estimate, we recommend you get in touch with one of our estate attorneys for a free consultation.

Can a minor be a beneficiary of a will?

Yes, minors can be named as beneficiaries. The caveat is that they cannot usually access their inheritances until they are of legal age.

Can the executor of a will also be a beneficiary?

Yes, executors can also be beneficiaries. If you are both the executor and a beneficiary of a will, you must always remember your fiduciary duties to the other beneficiaries of the will and never place your own interests above theirs. It is required that you remain impartial in your decision-making.

How do I know whether to get involved in an estate dispute as the executor or administrator?

If there is an estate dispute, it is crucial for executors and administrators to consult with an estate dispute lawyer prior to deciding whether or not to get involved. Usually, they should refrain from getting involved unless the assets of the estate are at stake or unless an action has been brought against them.

I have been named executor or administrator of a will. How do I get the process started?

The steps involved in estate administration can vary based on a number of factors, including the size of the estate and whether or not the decedent died with a valid will. Nevertheless, we cover the basic tasks executors and administrators must complete below.

The steps involved in estate administration can vary based on a number of factors, including the size of the estate and whether or not the decedent died with a valid will. Nevertheless, we cover the basic tasks executors and administrators must complete below.

  1. Submit will to probate court. Upon the death of a decedent, you must locate the decedent’s will and submit it to probate court for approval.
  2. Request appointment. If you have been named as the executor of a decedent’s will, you must petition the court to be officially appointed executor. If the decedent did not have a will, the court will likely appoint a family member or professional third party to administer the estate.
  3. Notify beneficiaries. You must notify the will’s beneficiaries and decedent’s heirs of your appointment as executor or administrator.
  4. Take inventory of assets. You will be responsible for tracking down and valuating all the assets included on the decedent’s will. 
  5. Pay creditors, taxes and estate expenses. Before any distributions can be made, it is crucial for you to pay the outstanding taxes, bills and debts of the decedent, as well as any expenses associated with administering the estate (e.g., legal fees, accounting fees).
  6. Make distributions. Once taxes and outstanding debts have been paid, you can start making distributions to the will’s beneficiaries, so long as no portion of the will is being contested. 
  7. Close the estate. Once all of the will’s beneficiaries have been provided their inheritances, you can petition probate court to close out the estate and be discharged from your role as executor or administrator, which also relieves you of any further liability.

Read more about estate administration.

What if I decide that I don’t want to be executor of a decedent’s will?

If you have been named the executor of a will, and it is a role you do not wish to fulfill, you can decline the appointment. The court will then attempt to appoint a backup executor if one is named on the will. If there is no backup executor, the court will appoint an administrator.

What if a decedent died with both a will and a trust, and the two documents contradict each other?

Many decedents do die with both a will and a trust. Together they are supposed to present a comprehensive estate plan, but sometimes – either intentionally or accidentally – they end up contradicting each other. 

In such a circumstance, it is possible that a portion of the decedent’s assets will pass according to the terms of the trust and the other portion will pass according to the terms of the will. An estate attorney can help evaluate the manner in which the decedent’s assets will be distributed.

How long does the person in possession of the will have to submit the will to probate court?

If a decedent’s will needs to be probated, whoever is in possession of the document will typically have 30 days to submit it to probate court — although many courts will permit the late lodging of a will.

Once a will is lodged with the court and a petition for probate is filed, the court will determine whether the will can be admitted to probate and who should be appointed as the executor or administrator of the estate. Once an executor or administrator is appointed, the estate administration process can begin.

How long does the executor have to close out the estate?

The estate administration process can take anywhere from several months to several years, depending on the complexity of the estate and whether other factors (e.g., estate taxes and estate litigation) come into play that could delay the administration process.

If beneficiaries and the executor/administrator get along, and there is no will contest, the process can span less than a year. If the estate administration process is contentious or complicated, or if the estate itself is complex, the process can span well over a year.

Can estate assets be distributed if the will is being contested?

No. If an estate dispute is taking place, the court will not allow executors and administrators to distribute the contested assets. However, it is possible the court will allow the executor or administrator to make a distribution to beneficiaries whose financial stake in the estate will not be affected by the outcome of the dispute.

Can the executor of a will override beneficiaries in making decisions about the estate?

It depends. As previously mentioned, executors have fiduciary duties that require them to only execute actions that align with the beneficiaries’ best interests. Sometimes, this means selling the decedent’s property to pay off the decedent’s debts. Other times, this means limiting beneficiaries’ distributions. 

While beneficiaries may not agree with these sorts of decisions, executors and administrators do have the right to make them, so long as their decisions are in the best interest of the estate and conform with California law.

Is an executor or administrator permitted to withhold assets from beneficiaries?

As a general rule, executors and administrators must make distributions to beneficiaries according to the terms of the will, as well as the laws set forth by the state. In this matter, executors and administrators have little discretion. 

However, if an estate is engaged in litigation or there are other factors that complicate administration, the executor or administrator may be within their discretion to temporarily withhold distributions to beneficiaries.

Can beneficiaries sue the executor or administrator of an estate?

Certainly. Beneficiaries can sue executors and administrators for failing to carry out their duties competently and ethically. It is important for beneficiaries to remember that they cannot sue an executor or administrator simply because they do not like the terms of a will or because they are unhappy about a decision an executor or administrator had to make (e.g., selling estate property, reducing distributions) in order to protect the estate.

Reasons why beneficiaries may pursue estate litigation for misconduct include the executor/administrator’s failure to:

  • Carry out duties competently and lawfully
  • Notify beneficiaries about their entitlements in a timely fashion
  • Provide inaccurate or inadequate accountings
  • Correctly interpret the will
  • Mismanage assets or cause damage to the estate

Read more about beneficiary rights.

What is a codicil to a will?

Put simply, a codicil is an amendment to a will created after the will has already been executed. To implement a legally valid codicil, one must follow the same procedures as they did when drafting and executing their original will.

Many testators opt for codicils to eliminate the hassle of creating an entirely new will after their end-of-life plans change. A codicil is akin to a trust amendment.

Does a power of attorney have any rights when it comes to estate litigation?

Not really. Generally, an attorney-in-fact’s powers expire after the principal (the person who designated them as attorney-in-fact) dies. 

That being said, if a person has been granted power of attorney, it does signify to the court that the decedent entrusted this person with their finances, so the court may appoint them administrator of the estate if no will exists, so long as they are also an heir.

 

Article

Estate Litigation Fundamentals

 

Chapters

The Duties and Obligations of Executors and Administrators

It is not an easy job to be the executor or administrator of an estate. There are many tasks to complete and complexities to navigate – and if executors or administrators make a mistake that damages the estate in any way, they could be held personally liable for paying damages to beneficiaries.

A qualified estate attorney can help streamline the estate administration process for executors and administrators by assisting with the following functions.

  • Tracking down the will document and filing it with probate court
  • Determining whether probate is necessary
  • Preparation of a petition for probate
  • Marshalling and inventorying estate assets
  • Paying the decedent’s taxes, debts and bills
  • Setting up an estate account
  • Preparing code-compliant accountings for approval by the court
  • Making distributions to beneficiaries
  • Representing the estate in administration and litigation matters

Estate Accounting Disputes

Estate accounting – keeping accurate records of every penny that leaves and comes into the estate – may be the single most important duty of executors and administrators. It is almost a guarantee that if executors and administrators fail to competently fulfill this duty, they will face legal retaliation at the hands of the beneficiaries.

Preparing Estate Accountings

When preparing estate accountings, there is a strict set of guidelines executors and administrators must follow. Mistakes stemming from negligence or a lack of knowledge about estate laws do not qualify as a valid excuse in the eyes of the court, since executors and administrators have an abundance of resources (e.g., estate lawyers, CPAs) available to them.

Estate attorneys can help guide executors and administrators through the accounting process by either preparing code-compliant accountings on their behalf or by inspecting their accountings after they’ve been prepared to make sure they are error-free.

Challenging the Accountings of Administrators and Executors

If an executor’s or administrator’s estate accountings seem inaccurate or incomplete, beneficiaries have the right to challenge them in court. If you are a beneficiary, it is important to remember that not all accounting errors are obvious. An estate lawyer can help parse accounting documents to ensure they are accurate and code-compliant.

When estate accountings are inadequate or point to misconduct on the part of the executor or administrator, an estate attorney can assist beneficiaries with challenging those accountings in court, and, depending on the gravity of the misconduct, removing and surcharging the executor or administrator. The judge may also require the executor or administrator to cover the cost of the opposing side’s attorney’s fees.

Estate Property Disputes

Anytime there are issues over assets, such as real estate, that belong to the decedent’s estate, they are called property disputes.

Property disputes are common in probate. While the substance of disputes can vary, they do tend to fall under one of the categories listed below.

  • Executor/Administrator vs. Beneficiary
  • Beneficiary vs. Executor/Administrator
  • Beneficiary vs. Beneficiary
  • Heir vs. Executor/Administrator or Beneficiary
  • Executor/Administrator and/or Beneficiary vs. Third Party

Is It Important When the Decedent’s Property Was Unlawfully Taken?

If someone illegally appropriated a testator’s property, they can be sued, even if their malfeasance isn’t discovered until after the testator has died.

It is well within the rights of executors, administrators and beneficiaries to bring an action against the alleged offender or offenders to recover the misappropriated assets and possibly punitive damages if the conduct was sufficiently egregious.

It should be noted that while beneficiaries have no obligation to bring a claim against an alleged offender, executors and administrators usually do. If it becomes apparent that the estate’s assets had been compromised in any way, it is the duty of executors and administrators to investigate, and if appropriate, litigate.

An estate lawyer can help executors and administrators with the estate litigation process, as well as anyone who is defending an allegation.

Damages to Estate Property

If the court determines that the accused – whether it be an executor or administrator, beneficiary or third party – more than likely committed a malfeasance that caused damage to the estate or resulted in the decedent drastically altering their estate plan, it may hold the accused party liable for paying damages. The accused party may also be required to return lost assets and cover the opposing party’s attorney’s fees and costs.

If a property claim has been brought against you, it is crucial for you to seek counsel from an experienced estate attorney who can help craft a defense strategy that would either minimize your liability or get the claim dismissed entirely.

850 Petitions in Estates

Probate Code section 850 provides litigants with the opportunity to file petitions (known as “850 Petitions”) in the probate court to claim an interest in an asset. Below are some scenarios for which 850 Petitions can be filed.

If a decedent entered into a contract to sell real estate to a third party prior to the decedent’s death, the third party can file an 850 Petition to complete the transfer.

If a decedent dies holding title or possession of an asset that rightfully belongs to someone else, that third party can file an 850 Petition seeking to have the property transferred out of the decedent’s name and to them.

If the decedent’s estate claims an interest in an asset that is in the possession of someone else, an 850 Petition can be brought seeking to have the property transferred to the decedent’s estate.


An estate attorney can help executors or administrators and interested parties bring or defend 850 Petitions to secure the transfer of property into or out of an estate.

Will Contests

Wills must pass through probate before executors and administrators can make distributions to beneficiaries. Only after the court admits a will to probate by determining that it is the true, valid will of the decedent can the estate be administered.

If disputes arise concerning the validity of a will offered for probate, it is possible to bring what is called a will contest – a petition aiming to invalidate the entire will or portions of it.

Bringing a Will Contest

If you suspect misconduct or error to have played a role in the drafting or execution of a will, you can bring a will contest to have the will invalidated. Generally, the only requirement for starting a will contest is that you have financial stake in the outcome of the case.

A skilled estate attorney can provide advice about whether beneficiaries have standing and proper cause to bring a will contest, as well as provide executors and administrators guidance about whether or not to get involved.

Defending a Will Contest

If a will contest is filed that seeks to invalidate a will naming you as a beneficiary, it may be worth your while to oppose the will contest with help from a skilled estate lawyer. Beneficiaries who fail to defend a contest lose their seat at the negotiating table, resulting in their potentially losing their inheritance. Executors and administrators who fail to defend a contest risk removal.

Settlement of Estate Disputes

For most people, litigation is a last resort. Not only can it get costly to litigate but it can put distributions on hold for months or even years. The good news is that if the parties involved in an estate dispute do not wish to litigate, they can hire an estate lawyer to help them reach a settlement outside of the courtroom.

If you suspect misconduct or error to have played a role in the drafting or execution of a will, you can bring a will contest to have the will invalidated. Generally, the only requirement for starting a will contest is that you have financial stake in the outcome of the case.

A skilled estate attorney can provide advice about whether beneficiaries and heirs have standing and proper cause to bring a will contest, as well as provide executors and administrators guidance about whether or not to get involved.

Learn more about contesting a will.

Beneficiary Designation Disputes in Estates

If a “payable-on-death beneficiary” has been designated for a particular asset, that asset will transfer directly to the designated beneficiary when the owner of that asset dies. While beneficiary designations seem simple enough, they can cause problems if the decedent also included the asset in their will or otherwise expressed an intent that the asset should be distributed to someone other than the designated payable-on-death beneficiary.

Below are the most common types of assets with beneficiary designations:

  • Life Insurance Policies
  • Deeds
  • Bank Accounts
  • IRAs
  • Retirement Accounts
  • Inheriting a Retirement Account? Here’s What You Should Know
  • Challenging Beneficiary Designations
  • What Happens to People’s Bank Accounts After They Die?
  • Can You Dispute a Life Insurance Beneficiary?
  • What Happens to Bank Accounts After Death?
  • What to Know About When Inheriting Retirement Accounts
  • Contesting Transfer-on-Death Deeds

Estate Disputes Involving a Beneficiary Designation

While beneficiary designations generally take precedence over the terms of a will, they can be contested if beneficiaries have evidence to demonstrate that the decedent actually intended the asset to be distributed to the beneficiaries named in the will, or if they suspect a designated beneficiary change was the result of misconduct.

Because of the complexities involved in these sorts of estate disputes, it is essential for both parties to be represented by a skilled estate lawyer, who can help them navigate the case and reach a favorable outcome.

Upholding a Beneficiary Designation in Estate Disputes

It is possible executors and administrators will have to get involved in beneficiary designation disputes if a payable-on-death beneficiary is challenged. In the same vein, designated beneficiaries may be put in the position of having to defend their right to the inheritance if interested parties or the executor or administrator attempt to invalidate it.

As previously mentioned, it is wise for anyone involved in a beneficiary designation dispute to seek legal counsel from an estate dispute lawyer who can help enforce their rights.

Inheritance Rights of Spouses, Children and Unmarried Couples in Estates

An estate lawyer can help ensure wills do not violate the inheritance rights of spouses, children and unmarried couples; if they do, the estate attorney can help these interested parties take the necessary steps to obtain their rightful inheritances.

Spouses and Children Omitted from Estates

California law includes protections for spouses and children who are inadvertently omitted as beneficiaries from a decedent’s estate under certain circumstances. If the right circumstances apply, spouses and children may be entitled to a portion of the estate’s assets.

Even if you are a child or a spouse who has a right to an inheritance, it is recommended you solicit the help of an estate lawyer who can make sure you obtain the inheritance to which you’re entitled.

Community Property Rights of Spouses in Estates

When discussing spousal inheritance rights, you are likely to come across the terms community property and separate property.

Community property refers to assets accumulated over the course of a marriage. As the name suggests, this kind of property belongs equally to both partners. When a spouse dies, their will can only dispose of their half of the community property.

 

Separate property applies to property acquired prior to marriage, and sometimes, to certain types of property acquired during marriage (e.g., property obtained by gift or inheritance and anything purchased using this property).

Problems can arise when a deceased spouse tries to dispose of their surviving spouse’s interest in community property as part of their will.

An experienced estate lawyer can help surviving spouses ensure every asset in the decedent’s will is actually the decedent’s to distribute. An estate attorney can also help beneficiaries protect their inheritances if a spouse is improperly claiming ownership of them.

What Is a Probate Homestead?

In certain situations, the surviving spouse and minor children of the decedent are permitted to remain in their deceased family member’s home until the youngest child comes of legal age. Probate homestead can supersede a decedent’s will if the decedent attempts to leave the home to someone other than a surviving spouse and protect the home from coming within the reach of creditors and beneficiaries who wish to claim it.

Are Family Members in Need Entitled to an Inheritance?

If a decedent provided financial support to spouses, minor children or dependent loved ones prior to their death, the court may authorize payments to be made to these individuals from any source within the decedent’s estate. For many, family allowances can be crucial for survival during the administration process. An estate lawyer can help family members of decedents receive the allowances to which they’re entitled while the will is in probate.

Inheritance Rights of Cohabitating Unmarried Partners in Estates

It is becoming increasingly common for couples to live together without getting married. In many instances, cohabitating couples make written, oral or implied agreements to leave each other all or a portion of their assets when they die. Estate disputes can arise when one partner dies without having formalized the agreement with their partner through an estate plan or other legally valid document.

The surviving partner can attempt to obtain some or all of their partner’s estate by arguing that an agreement had existed between the couple. An estate dispute attorney can provide guidance about the best route of action.

Divorced Spouse Exceptions in Estates

It sometimes is the case that a divorced spouse is named as a beneficiary of a will. It may be intentional on the part of the testator, but it’s more likely that the will had been drafted or executed prior to the divorce. Whatever the situation, the will’s other beneficiaries may be able to challenge the divorced spouse’s right to an inheritance.

An estate lawyer can help divorced spouses navigate these complexities, and, if needed, bring an action to claim the inheritance to which they’re entitled. A qualified estate attorney can likewise help an estate ensure that a divorced spouse does not obtain any property to which they are not entitled.

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Keystone Law Group’s estate services cover a wide range of estate disputes. If you are in California and seeking the counsel of an experienced estate litigation lawyer, Keystone has you covered. Call us today for a free consultation.