In some cases, litigation is unavoidable when settling a person's estate. For some people, this may be their first experience with court, and it can be difficult to know where to begin. One of the most common reasons for estate litigation is that the decedent died without an estate plan and their estate must go through probate in order to be resolved.
If you find yourself involved in estate litigation, you need an experienced estate planning attorney on your side. Our attorneys at Galanti and Copenhaver have many years of experience handling all forms of estate planning, including litigation. Contact our office today at 707-867-0787 to schedule a consultation to discuss your legal needs.
California Probate Court
In California, if a person dies without a will, the estate will often need to go through probate in order to get resolved. There are also some other reasons the estate must go through probate, even if there is a will. One example of this is if someone seeks to challenge the will as invalid. Another example is if the estate's gross value is over the legal exemption from probate.
If there is not a will, the court will appoint someone to take on the role of the administrator of the estate. If there is a will, the person named in the will as the executor of the estate will take on this role. The executor of the estate will file the will with the court, along with a petition for probate. The probate case will be filed in the county in which the deceased person lived. If you are filing a petition for probate, you should be aware that there is a filing fee of a few hundred dollars, which varies slightly from county to county.
What to Expect After the Petition for Probate Has Been Filed
Once the petition for probate has been filed, the next step is for the executor or the administrator of the estate to give notice to the beneficiaries, family members, and any creditors that may be owed money through the estate. If there was a will, the will must be proven valid. If you are involved in litigation stemming from a challenge to the will, you will have an opportunity to argue for your desired outcome. This is one of the many reasons it is important to hire an experienced estate attorney to handle any probate case involving litigation.
The next step involves the court issuing what is often called the letters of administration. This formally gives the executor or administrator the authority to compile all of the deceased person's assets, as well as determine whether there may be creditors owed a portion of the estate proceeds. The executor will need to file an inventory and appraisal of the assets with the court.
The Process of Closing the Estate and Distributing Assets to the Beneficiaries
In California, creditors are given just four months to come forward with their claim to the estate. In the event there is not enough money available in the estate to pay all of the creditors, they will be paid out in accordance with California state law. After the taxes and bills are paid, the executor will request that the court close the estate. After the estate has been closed, the executor is responsible for distributing the assets of the estate according to the order of the court.
Will Contest Litigation
Another reason you may end up in court involved in litigation over an estate is if you are contesting the validity of a will, or if you are defending the validity of a will. Since the law involved in this process is complex, having a trusted California estate attorney on your side will be beneficial to you.
California law allows for an interested party to contest a will on a variety of grounds. Interested persons include the deceased individual's heirs, as well as beneficiaries named in the will and any creditors. When a will has been successfully contested, the will as whole may be deemed invalid, or the court may eliminate one or more of the provisions of the will. A will may be challenged if an interested party believes fraud was involved in the drafting of the will. Another reason to challenge a will is if an interested party has reason to believe the deceased individual was not mentally competent at the time the will was made.
The litigation process for a will contest requires the interested party to file an objection to the petition based on the will, if the petition has already been filed. You must file your objection prior to the hearing on the will. You also have 120 days after the hearing to file a petition to revoke will probate.
If you become involved in any form of estate litigation, contact our office today. We have the skills and experience it takes to help you navigate the litigation process.