In the best of all worlds, an estate plan is crafted so as to foresee, and therefore, avoid, any issues or potential disputes. In the real world, however, there are times when problems arise. As estate and elder law attorneys, we can help clients going through the frustration and anger that’s too often inherent in estate settlements arguments. Every case is different with a fresh eye toward giving you, our client, an outcome that is in your best interest. Whether you are looking to resolve an estate dispute through negotiation or litigation, you can count on Keehn Law to stand by you each step of the way, with professionalism and compassion.
Understanding California estate litigation
Whether we are advising or representing you as a trustee, an executor or a beneficiary, you may hear many terms and references to specific laws that can be confusing. While the courts have a full glossary of probate and estate litigation terms and statutes, here are some that you may come across:
- Probate Section 82, Trusts: This defines a trust as “an express trust” (meaning it was created on purpose, rather than being imposed by the court) or a trust “created or determined by a judgment or decree under which the trust is to be administered in the manner of an express trust.”
- Probate Code Section 88, Will: A “Will includes codicil and any testamentary instrument which merely appoints an executor or revokes or revises another will.” A testamentary instrument is a document (in this case, a will) that creates, eliminates or transfers the right to a property. A codicil is document that makes some change to a will but leaves other parts intact.
- Probate Code Section 24, Beneficiary: A beneficiary is a person (or their successor) to whom a “donative transfer of property” is made. It further states that
(a) As it relates to the intestate estate of a decedent, means an heir;
(b) As it relates to the testate estate of a decedent, means a devisee (the person to whom real estate is left); .
(c) As it relates to a trust, means a person who has any present or future interest, vested or contingent; or
(d) As it relates to a charitable trust, includes any person entitled to enforce the trust.
- Probate Code Section 30, Fiduciary: A fiduciary is the person (for instance, the executor, personal representative, guardian, attorney-in-fact or trustee) who is put in charge of assets of the estate or the trust.
- Probate Code Section 45, Instrument: “Instrument” means a will, trust, deed, or other writing that designates a beneficiary or makes a donative transfer of property.
- Probate Code Section 62, Property: Property means anything that may be the subject of ownership, including both real and personal property.
- Probate Code Section 81.5, Transferee: This refers to the “beneficiary, donee or other recipient of an interest transferred by an instrument.” A beneficiary is a person who receives assets upon the death of the grantor, a donee is the recipient of a gift.
- Probate Code Section 81: “Transferor” means the testator, settlor, grantor, owner, or other person who executes an instrument.
Another term you may hear is “interested person,” who is “any heir, devisee, spouse, creditor, or any other having a property right, interest in, or claim against the estate being administered, and a fiduciary.”
We offer a broad range of estate litigation services-
Perhaps the most common issue brought to us by clients is contesting a will or trust. The first thing you should know is that there is a time limit: you have only 120 days from the time the will was admitted to probate to petition the court to revoke the order to admit the will to probate. In the case oaf a trust, you have 120 days from the time you, as the beneficiary, were given initial notice as required by the courts. This may be extended for 60 days if you request a copy of the trust after receiving the initial notice.
If you are a beneficiary seeking to contest a will or trust, you may have observed or have reason to believe there is misconduct on the part of the trustee, including fraud, forgery or undue influence. There may also be issues of testamentary capacity (whether the person making the will was at least 18 or had the mental capacity to make the will) or revocation (the testator recalled or annulled the will). As a trustee, you may have had unfair or untrue charges placed against you. In either case, you need an experienced estate lawyer on your side.
We also offer experienced representation in areas including:
- Estate and trust litigation: We have a track record of successful representation in matter or estate and trust disputes, whether representing fiduciaries or beneficiaries
- Probate, trust and estate appeals: In addition to being litigators, we are appellate lawyers who understand how to get favorable appellate decisions for our clients
- Probate, Trust and estate mediation: When the issues are less of a legal matter and more of a relationship issue, negotiating a mediated settlement is often the best course
- Intentional interference with expected inheritance: If you have reason to believe that you were prevented from receiving the inheritance you expected (and meet the legal criteria), you may be able to seek protection from the court.
- Beneficiary standing: The legal right of a beneficiary, rather than a trustee, to participate directly in trust litigation.
- Validity of a trust or will: Validity can only be challenged by certain parties, which include, beneficiaries and fiduciaries of a prior will or trust and disinherited heirs-at-law.