Probate Litigation Lawyers in San Diego
Probate is designed to provide an orderly process for sorting out the affairs of people who die, but the affairs themselves may be far from orderly. Creditors want to be paid, relative bring life-long rivalries and feuds into probate, people who cared for the deceased during periods of weakness may have influenced the will, and even the people appointed to administer the estate may bring their own interests into play.
If these problems can’t be settled quickly, they can turn into expensive litigation that both delays final settlement of the estate and reduces its assets. Some problems can be avoided by good estate planning, including no-contest clauses disinheriting those who challenge the will. The help of an experienced probate litigation lawyer can help manage the ones that do come up.
Challenges to the Will
The most fundamental probate litigation issue is a challenge to the will itself. Major grounds for challenges are:
- The will does not conform to the formal requirements of the state
- The deceased lacked the required capacity to make the will
- The terms of the will were unduly influenced by someone close to the deceased
- The deceased executed another will after the one offered for probate
Many will challenges begin as disappointment with the terms of the will. The deceased didn’t tell the family how the property was being distributed, and family members who didn’t get what they thought they would get begin to wonder why. Did Aunt Miranda get the vacation cottage because she spent her time caring for the deceased lobbying for that bequest?
Better communication before death might have prevented the problem, but once the problem arises, it can be hard to convince the disappointed relatives to drop it. Whoever is challenging the will has the burden of proving the will’s invalidity, but the gathering of evidence to establish or defeat the challenge is a challenge in itself for both sides of the claim. Both sides usually have witnesses to describe events supporting their position and the one person who knows for sure what happened is the deceased.
Recovery of Estate Property
Litigation may be necessary for the administrator to recover estate property that was taken, sold or given away under questionable circumstances. In most cases, the transactions involve gifts by the deceased, or sale of the property at unrealistically low prices. The grounds for questioning these transfers usually focus on:
- The deceased’s capacity to understand what was going at the time of the transfer
- The deceased’s actual intent at the time of the transfer
- Whether the person receiving the property exercised undue influence over the deceased
- Whether the person who received the property committed fraud or the like
Claims Against the Estate
Claims against the estate must be resolved before the final distribution of the estate property. Probate and trusts litigation over these claims may take place in probate or in other courts, depending on the nature of the claim and the current limits of probate court jurisdiction. Claims based on potential liability for things like personal injuries caused in a motor vehicle accident cannot be settled until the deceased’s liability is determined.
Claims of Administrator’s Breach of Duty
The person administering the estate has a strict fiduciary duty. Any claims that the fiduciary duty has been breached, such as an allegation that the administrator has sold off estate property at unrealistic prices to people who just happen to be his business associates, will be resolved in the probate proceeding.
Expert Legal Estate Planning Assistance
Many probate disputes can be negotiated to settlement. In doing that, it is important to think about what the tax consequences of the settlement will be. Disputes that can’t be settled tend to be time-consuming and factually complicated.
The team of trust and estate attorneys and paralegals at Boyd Law in San Diego has an excellent track record of success in both settlement negotiations and litigation. Whether you are a potential heir with questions about the will or the honesty of the administrator or an estate administrator facing costly litigation or claims of fiduciary breach, call us today. You’ll sleep better with reliable, ethical help from the experienced estate attorneys of the Boyd Law Firm.