Riverside Probate Lawyer
When most people think of probate court, they think of high-profile matters like the seemingly endless Jimi Hendrix probate matter. Hendrix died suddenly in 1970. Over fifty years later, and although his career only lasted four short years, his heirs are still in probate court. But in many cases, especially if many assets are in trust and all other affairs are in order, probate court does not involve much more than filing paperwork.
The diligent Riverside probate lawyers at The Probate Guy believe that if attorneys do their homework, the tests are not as challenging. So, we begin thinking about probate court, and how best to avoid it, long before the day comes. Since probate is the legal mechanism for formalizing a will, there’s no way to completely avoid it. But there are lots of ways to reduce or eliminate the burdens it imposes on your heirs.
Nuts and Bolts of Probate Court
Basically, a will is like a permission slip. Schoolchildren cannot go on field trips until their caregivers sign their permission slips. Likewise, a will has no legal force and effect until a judge approves it. Probate is the process of obtaining that approval.
The executor is the key figure in this drama. A will may name an individual or an entity as an executor. There are some pros and cons to both these things. An individual is usually a trusted individual, but a complex estate might be too time-consuming to manage on your own. Conversely, institutions have considerable resources, but there is no way to tell who the individual executor will be.
As mentioned, wills have no legal effect at this time. So, the judge must officially appoint the named person or entity to the position of independent executor. In a few cases, judges appoint their own dependent executors. These individuals perform their duties under direct court supervision. Judges usually only make these appointments if a challenging party proves the designated executor is completely incompetent.
Next, the executor pays all estate claims. Funeral and burial expenses, along with income taxes, are usually the largest claims. Other common claimants include hospitals, credit card companies, and mortgage companies. If the estate runs out of cash to pay debts, the independent executor usually has the power to sell assets and raise cash.
Afterwards, the executor distributes remaining estate assets according to the will. This process includes specific bequests, such as “I give my car to Linda,” and general bequests, such as “I give my estate to my children per stirpes.” PS basically means “in equal shares.”
Finally, executors file official reports which detail all these transactions. From beginning to end, the probate process usually takes a few months, unless the estate is especially large and complex.
Jimi Hendrix died intestate (without a will), which is why the litigation has lasted so long. Normally, probate litigation involves a document challenge. Usually, that challenge involves the will. A challenging party usually claims that the will was fraudulent. Basically, the party argues the testator (person who made the will) was confused and therefore fell under the influence of an unscrupulous person.
Most of these matters settle out of court. Generally, Orange County judges refer these disputes to mediation. A third party mediator, who is usually an unaffiliated Riverside probate lawyer, works with both sides and tries to engineer a settlement agreement. Since both sides have a legal duty to negotiate in good faith, mediation is usually successful.
Contact a Dedicated Orange County Lawyer
Probate court is nothing we can’t handle. For a free consultation with an experienced Riverside probate lawyer, contact the Law Offices of Robert L. Cohen. We routinely handle matters throughout SoCal.