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Probate Litigation Attorney in California

Guiding Clients Through the Legal Process of Contesting a Will

The probate process of a deceased’s estate can be a challenge in itself, but things can become even more complicated when a beneficiary has reasons to believe that there is a problem with the will or with the way that the executor is administering the estate. This is when probate litigation may be necessary to settle all issues and obtain remedies with the help of the probate court. But how does probate litigation work, and why should you hire a probate litigation attorney for it?

The probate litigation attorneys at the Sheela Stark Law Group, APC, explain what you need to know about probate litigation in California and how a probate litigation attorney can help. If you would like to receive legal advice pertaining to your particular situation, call our law office, at 909-675-1545.

What Is Probate Litigation?

Probate litigation is a legal process used to deal with estate administration disputes, such as initiating will contests. It consists of a lawsuit that is filed in probate court by an interested party (usually the estate’s beneficiaries) and can be used to challenge the validity of a will, contest the appointment of an executor or administrator, or dispute the way an executor or administrator is managing the estate. With probate litigation, beneficiaries or heirs of the estate may obtain a remedy for any misconduct or mismanagement of the estate, set aside an invalid will, or hold the estate administrator financially liable for any wrongdoings.

If you have reason to believe your loved one’s estate is being mishandled or that their will is somehow incorrect and should be set aside, it is important that you speak with a California probate litigation attorney such as the ones at the Sheela Stark Law Group, APC. A probate litigation attorney can help you build your case with the required evidence to obtain the outcome you are seeking.

What Are Some of the Grounds for Contesting a Will in Probate in California?

In order to contest a will in California, a beneficiary must have sufficient grounds or reasons to do so. That means a person may not initiate a will contest simply because they are unhappy with what they received as an inheritance, for example. That being said, common grounds for contesting a will typically include lack of testamentary capacity, undue influence, fraud, duress, mistake, or lack of formalities in drafting the will.

Lack of testamentary capacity means that the testator did not have sufficient mental capacity to understand that they were signing a will and had no concept of the extent and value of their property, and thus were not capable of making decisions concerning the disposition of their property in the will. On the other hand, undue influence is when the testator is pressured or influenced by another person when creating the will and choosing beneficiaries. Fraud can be found when the testator is misled about the contents of the will or if the will was created in a fraudulent manner, such as when it is written by someone else posing as the testator.

Duress can occur when the testator is forced to sign the will under threat of harm or violence, such as when a caretaker threatens to withhold the testator’s medications or forbid them from visiting with their grandchildren if they don’t write their will in a way to benefit the influencer. Mistakes can be found when the testator makes an error in the will that is contrary to their wishes. Lastly, a lack of formalities can be established when the proper procedures for creating a valid will are not followed. For example, if the document was not signed in the presence of witnesses or if the will is not properly dated, then it can be challenged on the grounds of lack of formalities.

Can the Executor Override the Will or Take Estate Assets for Their Own Benefit?

An executor (also called the estate’s personal representative or administrator) has a fiduciary duty to properly manage the estate and all its assets while maintaining transparency and an open line of communication with the beneficiaries and interested parties. Unfortunately, not every executor acts in accordance with their fiduciary duties.

If a will is considered valid and is being probated, an executor has no power to make changes to the way the estate is to be distributed among the beneficiaries – the probate court will expect the wishes of the decedent to be followed. In other words, an executor typically does not have the authority to deny the transfer of assets to a beneficiary named in the will unless the will allows them to do so. Overriding the will for personal reasons and taking other actions, such as improperly taking possession of estate assets without authorization, can be considered a breach of the executor’s fiduciary duties and could be grounds for probate litigation.

What Are the Remedies and Damages Available for a Probate Litigation Case?

If a probate lawsuit is successful, the plaintiff (usually the beneficiary of the estate in question) may ask the judge for monetary damages, non-monetary remedies, or, in some cases, both. The most common non-monetary outcome of probate litigation is to have the probate court either instruct or remove the executor from their position. For example, if an executor is not properly managing the estate assets and delaying the process of selling estate assets for no good reason, the court can instruct the executor to hire a real estate agent and take the necessary steps to sell the property in a timely manner. If the personal representative is determined to be unfit for the job due to a lack of skills and qualifications or due to misconduct, the court can remove them from their position and appoint a new personal representative.

If a monetary outcome is obtained, the executor may be ordered to pay the plaintiff monetary damages. These damages are calculated based on a few different factors, such as the depreciation of the estate’s value caused by the executor’s fiduciary duty breach, any profits acquired by the executor as a result of the breach (plus applicable interest), or any profit the estate may have lost as a result of the breach. It is important to have legal counsel and to consult an experienced probate litigation attorney to understand which remedies and damages may be available for your specific case.

How Can a Probate Litigation Attorney Help?

Like any other civil litigation, probate lawsuits require the plaintiff to produce sufficient evidence to support their claim. If you need to contest a will or hold an executor responsible for breaching their duties, it will be up to you to prove your case to the court. By working with a California probate litigation lawyer, you can get the legal help you need to build a strong case and help protect your interests and those of your deceased loved one.

If you would like to schedule a free consultation to discuss your probate litigation matters in California, contact the probate litigation lawyers at the Sheela Stark Law Group, APC, by calling 909-675-1545 to learn more.