Category Archives: Probate

Contesting a California will

When a person dies, his or her will will be administered as written through the probate court in most cases. Courts generally presume that a written will is a valid statement of what the testator wished to happen. Judges will usually strictly follow wills unless an interested person is able to overcome the presumption of the will’s validity.

People may be able to successfully challenge a will in several situations. If they are able to prove to the court that the testator lacked testamentary capacity by being insane, senile or under the influence of substances at the time the will was executed, the contesting party may be successful. The same is true if the challenger is able to prove that the person was vulnerable and coerced into leaving his or her property to a manipulator.

The process is commenced by the challenger filing an objection with the court regarding the probate of the will. Upon filing, the court will schedule a hearing and issue a notice and summons. The challenger must then have copies of the objection, notice of the hearing and summons sent to all interested parties. Any party who wishes to answer the objection must file an answer prior to the hearing date. At the hearing, the court will hear evidence and issue its ruling regarding the validity of the contested will.

While it is often difficult to successfully challenge a will, it is possible to do so. People who wish to draft a will that will hopefully withstand a challenge may benefit by meeting with an estate planning attorney. Such an attorney can in some cases represent a client who is questioning the validity of such a document prepared by a family member.

Source: California Law, “Probate Code Section 8250-8254“, November 01, 2014

Celebrity examples for those facing estate planning concerns

While successful celebrities may manage significant assets during their lives, they are just as prone to making bad decisions during the estate planning process as any other California resident. Understanding the implications of each type of estate plan is important, and it is wise to consider scenarios that might affect one’s wishes. Robin Williams’ irrevocable trust is an excellent example. While he may have desired to protect the privacy of his family by establishing an irrevocable trust, the documents became public due to the death of a trustee. The co-trustee was faced with the need to have a new trustee appointed, requiring a petition that involved making related documents public.

Casey Kasem’s health decline led to significant conflict between his adult children and his second wife. The spouse’s challenge over his health directives and Kasem’s designation of a daughter for decisions related to his care led to a long battle. Similar battles may be ahead as the deceased Kasem’s estate is addressed. Meanwhile, the estate of Philip Seymour Hoffman must go through probate due to the fact that he did not marry his children’s mother nor establish trusts. His lack of more appropriate estate planning may leave his partner with large tax bills.

Failing to update an estate plan resulted in Michael Crichton excluding his unborn child from inheriting from his estate at the time of his death. A review of Crichton’s estate plans might have prevented an unpleasant court battle. An individual who is not a celebrity might not need to worry about high-value assets, but family members could be just as negatively affected by a lack of planning.

An individual who is concerned about issues such as publicity, medical decisions, tax liabilities or an unborn child may want to review an existing estate plan with a lawyer practicing in a relevant field. Regularly revisiting a plan may ensure that new life issues may be addressed appropriately.

Source: Forbes, “Lessons Celebrities Can Teach Retirees About Estate Planning“, Thomas and Robert Fross , September 16, 2014

What are your duties as an executor of a will?

You have been named the executor of someone’s will: now what? You probably have a lot of questions about what you are expected to do and what steps you need to take to get the process started. 

Being the executor of a loved one’s will can be a difficult process, especially since you are still grieving the loss of your loved one. However, the executor is expected to take care of the person’s estate and your duties will start fairly soon after your loved one’s passing.

What exactly is the executor expected to do? The executor of a will has several duties to complete. The executor should become familiar with the person’s will so he or she knows who the listed beneficiaries are and what they will be receiving. 

Some of the main duties the executor will complete include: 

  • Gathering the deceased’s assets
  • Paying any bills
  • Filing any tax returns
  • Distributing assets to beneficiaries

The executor should become familiar with the will so the estate is settled according to the will’s terms. It is the executor’s responsibility to make sure the terms of the will are executed according to their loved one’s wishes. 

Being named the executor of another person’s will can be difficult. There are many decisions and procedures to follow to make sure the will is managed properly. In California, there are specific laws regarding the probate process and how the terms of the will should be managed. 

Executing the will or other estate planning documents can be a complicated process. It may be beneficial to work with an attorney to discuss any legal issues you should be aware of and to make sure the will is being executed according to the estate’s terms. 

Source: The American Bar Association, “Guidelines for Individual Executors & Trustees,” Accessed June 18, 2014