Inheritance Dispute Lawyers

It is not uncommon for inheritance disputes to arise over the course of estate administration or trust administration. Since inheritance disputes can stir up quite a bit of emotion, the parties involved may seek the help of inheritance dispute lawyers to resolve the issues.

Because the inheritance dispute attorneys at Keystone Law Group practice exclusively in probate law, they are highly skilled in their field and possess unmatched experience and expertise in the state of California. Keystone’s Inheritance lawyers will fight tooth and nail to ensure you get what’s rightfully yours.

  • Have you been unjustly excluded from a spouse’s or parent’s will or trust?
  • Do you suspect that your loved one was forced or pressured into altering their will or trust documents?
  • Are family members of the deceased contesting your right to property you were left in the will or trust?
  • Was your inheritance reduced or eliminated as a result of the decedent having modified their will or trust at a time when they lacked the mental competence to do so?
  • Are you a surviving spouse with concerns that your deceased spouse is disposing of more than 50% of the community property through their will or trust?

Whether you have questions about disputing an inheritance, enforcing your inheritance rights or involving yourself in an inheritance dispute launched by someone else, Keystone can help. Reach out to our team today to find out how our experienced inheritance dispute attorneys can assist you.

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What Is Inheritance Litigation?

Inheritance litigation is the legal process by which the probate court resolves disputes arising over inheritances. This area of the law can include everything from disputes among family members about who is entitled to what portion of a deceased person’s estate or trust to disputes over the validity of their will or trust document.. If you are involved in an inheritance dispute or are wondering whether to participate in one you should know a few key things: 

  • The burden of proof generally lies with the person challenging their inheritance or lack of one; however, the burden of proof can switch to the opposing party mid-litigation if the facts of your case give rise to a presumption of undue influence under the law.Inheritance disputes can be expensive and time-consuming, although the payoff can be worth it if your case reaches a favorable resolution. If you are considering contesting an inheritance, you should speak with an attorney to discuss potential costs, and the advantages and disadvantages of litigating.
  • If you stand to receive an inheritance from an estate or trust, failing to participate in another party’s inheritance dispute can prove detrimental to your own inheritance, as the other parties to the dispute may reach a resolution that adversely affects your interests.
  • Many inheritance disputes can be resolved without a full-blown trial through mediation, which is a negotiation between the parties led by a neutral mediator with the goal of reaching a settlement agreement. If a resolution can be reached through this method, it can save you a great deal of time and money.

How Could an Inheritance Lawyer Help You?

After losing a loved one, the last thing you want to have to think about is dealing with the complexities of the probate process or with the possibility that the decedent’s final wishes, as expressed through their will or trust, could be thwarted because of an inheritance dispute. But, by hiring an experienced inheritance dispute lawyer to oversee the process and handle any disputes that may arise during it, you can focus on grieving your loss and leave the heavy lifting to your attorney.

There are numerous legal matters that call for the intervention of an inheritance attorney. California law, for example, does not always require that a decedent’s assets pass through a formal probate. Property held in a trust is also not subject to probate, nor does California require a formal probate for small estates. This means that a decedent’s assets can pass to their designated beneficiaries or heirs with little to no court supervision. An inheritance attorney, nevertheless, may be needed to ensure beneficiaries and heirs receive the inheritances to which they’re entitled.

California law also provides interested parties with the ability to petition the court for orders that may help them avoid a formal probate, which otherwise may have been required, through such means as a Spousal Property Petition, which enables a decedent’s surviving spouse to petition for orders to confirm and convey their interest in the decedent’s estate without a formal probate; a Small Estate Affidavit, which enables any interested party to petition for orders to transfer a deceased person’s estate valued at $184,500 or less to beneficiaries or heirs without a formal probate; and a Petition to Determine Succession of Real Property, which enables any interested party to petition for orders to transfer a deceased person’s real property if their total estate is valued at $184,500 or less without a formal probate.

Inheritance disputes can arise in any circumstance — even in instances where an estate did not undergo formal probate. For instance, a surviving spouse may file a Spousal Property Petition to bypass probate, but the deceased spouse’s family members may contest the surviving spouse’s right to certain assets on account of those assets having been the deceased spouse’s separate property. Or, an inheritance dispute may arise during administration of a decedent’s trust, which is not subject to formal probate proceedings. Whatever the context may be for an inheritance dispute, it can be made easier if you have a qualified inheritance attorney in your corner to help you navigate it. 

Keystone’s practice areas include:

Counseling Trustees

Trustees have a huge job on their shoulders, and unlike executors and administrators, who are held accountable by the court, trustees only have beneficiaries to hold them accountable. A qualified California trust lawyer can counsel and assist trustees with their trustee duties. They can also provide legal guidance when trust-related decisions need to be made to ensure the trustee stays protected against liability.

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Accounting Disputes

Trustees are responsible for preparing periodic accountings to provide to beneficiaries and heirs. Depending on the size and complexity of the trust, this can be a burdensome task to take on by oneself. To prevent future accounting disputes, trustees should strongly consider hiring a California trust attorney to check their accountings or prepare them on their behalf.

As for beneficiaries, if an accounting seems off, or if certain trust assets are not accounted for, it is a good idea to hire a California trust lawyer to inspect the accountings for errors or signs of misconduct or negligence on the part of the trustee. If your trust and estate attorney agrees that the accountings are problematic, they can help contest the accountings in court. A California trust attorney can also help trustees defend accountings that are being contested.

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Property Disputes

Perhaps the decedent executed a trust but failed to transfer the titles of the property mentioned in the trust into the trust’s name before they died. Perhaps two siblings jointly inherited a house through a trust, and now a partition action must be brought because one sibling wants to sell the home and the other doesn’t.

Anytime the assets held by a trust are the subject of a dispute, a California trust litigation lawyer may be needed to help resolve the dispute. 

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Trust Contests

Suppose that an adult child moved into the home of their dying parent under the pretense of caring for them, but then, by becoming close to the parent, persuaded them to drastically change their trust to disinherit their other children and make the adult child who moved in the sole beneficiary. Or, suppose that a patient with dementia created and executed a trust. Both of the aforementioned scenarios present valid grounds for contesting a trust

Trust contests can only be brought for very specific reasons in California (disliking the trust’s provisions is not one of them). And they can only be brought by someone with standing (i.e., a party who has financial stake in the trust). A California trust attorney can assist you with determining whether you have the grounds and standing to contest a trust.

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Removal and Surcharge

If you suspect that a trustee is engaged in misconduct or is being negligent with their duties, it is important to get in touch with a California trust attorney as soon as possible to prevent the possibility of more financial harm befalling the trust. If your lawyer agrees with your claims about the trustee, they may be able to enter a petition with the court to remove and surcharge the trustee for the damage they caused to the trust.

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Elder Abuse Claims

Mental capacity can start to decline at old age, leaving elders susceptible to financial abuse. Often, elder financial abuse takes the form of someone close to an elder unduly influencing the elder or perpetrating fraud against them to cause them to drastically modify their trust to favor their abuser. A California trust lawyer can help investigate and litigate these types of claims to recover the property that was lost and damages. A California trust lawyer can also defend anyone who has been accused of elder financial abuse.

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Spouses, Children and Unmarried Couples

If you are the surviving spouse of a decedent, you have certain inheritance rights. In California, which is a community property state, spouses are entitled to one-half of all community property (i.e., property that was acquired over the course of a marriage by either spouse), with certain limited exceptions.

Children are generally not guaranteed an inheritance from their deceased parent, but they still have certain rights as heirs of a decedent. Unmarried cohabiting couples may have inheritance rights as well, but enforcing them may be difficult. Children and unmarried cohabitating partners of decedents should work with a California trust attorney to ensure they receive the inheritance they are due.  

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Common Inheritance Disputes

A beneficiary is entitled to receive their rightful inheritance from the estate or trust of the decedent. If they believe their inheritance was wrongfully reduced or eliminated, or if someone is threatening their inheritance, it’s possible an inheritance dispute will arise.

For example, suppose that an adult child had always been promised their father’s home, but when the father’s will was read, the will simply stated that the decedent’s home should go to his child. Because the decedent had several children, this provision of the will contains what is known as an ambiguity, which means that it can be interpreted in more than one way. Each of the decedent’s children could argue that they are entitled to the home; however, to resolve the dispute, the court ultimately will consider the rest of the will for clues about the decedent’s true intentions, and possibly even extrinsic evidence. For instance, a decedent’s will or trust could call for the executor of an estate or the trustee of the trust, respectively, to divide the decedent’s assets equally among their three children; however, the executor or trustee could fail to distribute the assets or mismanage the assets. When the executor of an estate or the trustee of the trust does not comply with their fiduciary duties by making proper and timely distributions to beneficiaries, an inheritance dispute is likely to emerge, causing beneficiaries to bring a claim against the executor or trustee.

The following are common reasons for inheritance disputes:

  • Improper division of assets
  • Ambiguities within a will or trust/misinterpretation of the will or trust
  • Undue influence or fraud was committed against the decedent by someone close to them in an effort to compel them to make drastic changes to their will or trust (this type of inheritance dispute generally requires the filing of a trust or will contest)
  • The creator of the will or trust lacked the mental capacity to execute the document in question
  • The will or trust leaves gifts to “disqualified persons” (e.g., caregivers, fiduciaries)

Inheritance disputes may be unavoidable if you are determined to receive the inheritance you’re entitled to or to protect the inheritance you have. Every inheritance dispute comes with a unique set of obstacles, so if you are amid a challenging probate or trust situation, it would be wise to consult with an inheritance attorney. In California, an inheritance attorney can help you wade through complicated probate matters and understand what your rights are as a beneficiary or heir.

One should try to avoid inheritance disputes whenever possible; however, sometimes, doing so is impossible if one is seeking to receive the inheritance to which they are entitled. Every inheritance dispute comes with a unique set of obstacles, so if you are amid a challenging probate or trust situation, it would be wise to consult with an inheritance or estate attorney if you have not already taken this step. In California, an inheritance attorney can help you wade through complicated probate matters and understand what your rights are as a beneficiary or heir.

Inheritance Lawyer FAQs

We regularly receive the following questions concerning inheritance disputes from our clients. For further questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to contact our inheritance litigation attorneys for assistance.

How can I avoid inheritance litigation?

In order to avoid litigation, parties who are involved in an inheritance dispute can always try to resolve the issue among themselves or through mediation. The problem is that there is no guarantee everyone involved will play ball.

 

As previously mentioned, inheritance litigation cannot always be avoided. Even if the parties to an inheritance dispute agree to mediation, for example, they may not be able to reach a compromise during it. The good news is that even if an inheritance dispute is already being litigated in the courts, the parties generally can still try to resolve the dispute out of court through mediation. In some instances, it could be that a matter is being actively litigated and the court itself orders for the parties to settle the dispute via mediation. Sometimes, litigants who are unwavering in their stance will be more amicable to settling out of court once they realize how much money and time they will have to spend to resolve the dispute through a trial.

On the other side of the coin are parties who wish to stay out of the mediation proceedings and/or inheritance litigation brought by other parties altogether; we like to call such persons “freeloader” or “bystander” beneficiaries. While they have a right to abstain, it probably would not be a wise decision, as they would risk losing their seat at the negotiating table, and possibly even their inheritance.

Do I have the standing to pursue inheritance litigation in California?

To pursue inheritance litigation in California, you must have the proper standing. In California, this means that you are an interested party to the estate or trust. An interested party is typically an estate beneficiary or trust beneficiary under the decedent’s most recent will or trust, a beneficiary under previous versions of the decedent’s will or trust, or an heir to the estate. Under special circumstances, creditors or others with a financial interest in the estate or trust may also have standing. If you are unsure whether you have standing, it is recommended you speak to an experienced inheritance lawyer.

What happens if a loved one dies without a will?

If a loved one dies without a will, their assets will be distributed to their intestate heirs via a process known as intestate succession, which is laid in California Probate Code sections 6400 – 6455.  The laws of intestate succession determine which of the decedent’s relatives stand to inherit their property, and since these are codified laws, they generally cannot be disputed. 

 

With intestate succession, a decedent’s property will always pass to their closest living relatives, which in most cases is their surviving spouse and children. If the decedent did not have a spouse or children, their parents will inherit their property. Otherwise, their property will go to the siblings.

Does California Have an Inheritance Tax or Estate Tax?

No, California does not have an inheritance tax or estate tax. This means that when you inherit property from a decedent, you will not owe any state taxes on the value of that property. However, if you are a trustee or executor/administrator, it’s likely you will need to pay taxes on behalf of the decedent,  including all of the decedent’s unpaid personal taxes, federal estate taxes  and taxes on income earned by the estate or trust. Trustees and executors/administrators are required to pay these taxes, as well as all of the decedent’s other creditors, prior to distributing any of their assets to beneficiaries or heirs.

Do I need an inheritance lawyer for small estate procedures?

It depends. While you generally don’t need an inheritance lawyer for small estate procedures in California, hiring a lawyer to assist you can be beneficial. Small estate procedures usually allow the decedent’s heirs or beneficiaries to obtain property without appearing in court, or if the filing of a petition is required, after a single court hearing without the assets having to pass through a formal probate, which can cost a lot of money and span a year or longer. To be eligible for small estate procedures, the estate’s total value must be less than $184,500..

What is the statute of limitations for inheritance litigation?

The statute of limitations for inheritance litigation will depend on the type of claim being brought. For example, if you are seeking to bring a trust contest, you will have 120 days from the date a formal notification of trust administration was served upon you by the trustee to file your trust contest. Other claims can have entirely different statutes of limitations which can expire at any time, so it is important to act quickly and reach out to an inheritance dispute lawyer as soon as you believe your inheritance rights have been violated.

Inheritance Attorneys to Help You Navigate California Law

Keystone’s inheritance dispute attorneys focus exclusively on probate litigation and administration, enabling them to have a breadth of knowledge surrounding their practice area that few other attorneys possess. What’s more, it is their mission to be constantly expanding and honing their expertise. They make it a point to routinely update themselves on probate developments and cases in order to provide their clients with effective and aggressive representation. This is why they are highly respected by judges, peers and clients alike.

Keystone’s inheritance dispute attorneys have:

  • Been certified as Specialists in Estate Planning and Trust and Probate Law (State Bar of California, Board of Legal Specialization).
  • Presented on probate litigation and administration topics at professional conferences for attorneys, CPAs and more.
  • Taught estates and trusts to law students.
  • Received accolades from leading legal publications, such as Daily JournalBest Lawyers and Super Lawyers.
Who We Help

Services Provided by Keystone's Inheritance Dispute Attorneys

The inheritance dispute lawyers at Keystone Law Group are adept at helping clients navigate all aspects of the administration process and any inheritance disputes that may arise during it. Keystone can provide counsel to anyone involved in an inheritance dispute, including:

Trustees of Trusts

Trustees may have questions about what their role should be in inheritance disputes. Inheritance attorneys can help clarify their role and protect them against liability.

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Executors and Administrators

Executors and administrators may find themselves at the center of inheritance disputes. Inheritance attorneys can help them make the right decisions so they are protected against liabilities.

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Beneficiaries

Every beneficiary is entitled to the inheritance they were left by the decedent through their will or trust. An inheritance dispute attorney can help them ensure they get it.

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Spouses of Decedents

A surviving spouse has community and separate property rights in California. Inheritance lawyers can help them navigate California’s complex spousal laws.

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Creditors

Inheritance disputes can arise if a decedent’s assets are distributed before a decedent’s creditors are paid or if a decedent’s estate or trust refused to honor the creditor’s valid claims.

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Victims of Elder Financial Abuse

When it comes to light that a decedent had fallen victim to financial abuse, inheritance dispute attorneys can help the decedent’s beneficiaries and heirs recover the property that was lost as a result of the abuse, as well as damages.

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Attorneys-In-Fact

When a person’s attorney-in-fact — a type of fiduciary who has been granted authority to act on behalf of another person through a power of attorney document — breaches their fiduciary duties for personal gain, an inheritance dispute attorney can help to bring or defend a claim against the attorney-in-fact and potentially recover damages.

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What We Do

Our Practice Areas

Trust & Will Disputes
Fiduciary Misconduct
Property Disputes
Elder Financial Abuse
Trust & Estate Administration
Conservatorship
Guardianship
Probate Appeals
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Contact Our Inheritance Lawyers Today

If you are involved in an inheritance dispute or any other type of probate litigation, our probate attorneys can help. Contact an inheritance dispute lawyer at Keystone today to learn more about what we can do to enforce your legal rights and protect your interests. Call us at (424) 398-7609 or schedule a free consultation with a California inheritance attorney now.