Whittier Probate Lawyer
Probate court is a necessary part of the estate planning process. Wills are not legally enforceable until a judge probates them. Typically, a stint in probate court is either the simplest or the most complex litigation imaginable. If a will is legally sound and has no suspicious bequests (e.g. I leave all my money to this person I just met), probate court is little more than filing paperwork. On the other end of the spectrum, probate court could be a nightmare. Jimi Hendrix’s heirs have been in court almost constantly since his 1970 death.
The experienced Whittier probate lawyers at The Probate Guy routinely handle these matters throughout SoCal. Since we are very familiar with all local rules, including the unwritten rules, we are normally able to expedite your probate case. Our goal is to wrap these matters up as quickly as possible. However, we never take shortcuts and never take the easy way out. Our current and former clients very much appreciate our efficiency at a time when a family faces so much uncertainty.
Grounds for a Will Contest
As mentioned, will contests usually focus on the technical aspects of a document or on unusual or suspicious bequests. In either area, challenging parties must usually use one of the following grounds:
- Incapacity: Testators (people who make wills) must know the full extent of their bounty, which usually means all their heirs and assets. “Incapacity” is a rather vague term in California. People who are in comas are obviously incapacitated and people who forget to turn off the light probably aren’t incapacitated. There is a lot of grey area between these extremes.
- Undue Influence: Outside influence could invalidate a will if the pressure was so extreme the testator lost free will and was under another person’s influence. Typically, it’s rather easy for an Orange probate lawyer to prove one of these two prongs, but it’s very difficult to prove both of them.
- Fraud: Typically, if probate petitioners cannot prove incapacity or undue influence, they may be able to prove fraud. Typically, the fraudster lies about the nature of the document and convinces the testator to sign it. People who sign documents without reading them normally aren’t incapacitated, and lying or cajoling usually doesn’t constitute undue influence. But the two things together could constitute fraud.
The challenging party usually has the burden of proof to invalidate a will by a preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not.
The Basic Probate Process
If no one files a will contest, the probate process is rather straightforward, at least in most cases. If the estate plan included a trust, the process might be even more streamlined. There is less property to deal with in the will execution.
The judge almost always appoints the listed estate administrator as an independent executor. The administrator could be an individual or an entity. In extremely rare cases, the judge might require a bond, appoint the administrator as a dependent (court-supervised) executor, or make another appointment.
Afterwards, the executor distributes estate assets, usually first to creditors, such as hospitals and funeral homes, and then to the listed heirs. Executors can only pay allowed claims and must follow the distribution instructions in the will. So, it’s important that these written instructions be as specific as possible.
Finally, executors must file written reports with the court which detail all these transactions. These reports become part of the permanent court record.
Contact a Dedicated Orange County Lawyer
Probate is a necessary, and often complex, part of the legal process. For a free consultation with an experienced Whittier probate lawyer, contact the Law Offices of Robert L. Cohen. Virtual, home, and after-hours visits are available.