Walnut Creek Probate Attorney
If you’ve been named as the executor of someone’s will or appointed by the court as the administrator of an estate, you’ve suddenly got a lot on your plate. You may be unprepared to take on this role or find yourself in over your head when it comes to understanding and dealing with another person’s property, investments and financial affairs. Nevertheless, you now have a legal duty to perform the required tasks competently in the best interests of the estate and its beneficiaries, and you can even be held personally liable for mistakes that cost the estate and its intended heirs and beneficiaries. Walnut Creek probate attorney Aaron Feldman can assist you in the important and difficult tasks required for a smooth and efficient California probate administration.
What is probate?
Probate is a legal process undertaken under court supervision that gives effect to the terms of a will and settles a deceased person’s estate. The word “probate” comes from the same Latin root as “prove” and “proof,” and indeed, entering a will into probate “proves” that the will is the valid and enforceable last will and testament of the deceased person who made the will (known as the testator). Once the will is accepted into probate, the executor or administrator can then distribute the deceased person’s estate according to the terms of the will, but only after completing a myriad of other tasks, such as:
- Notifying creditors of the probate estate
- Collecting and inventorying all assets of the estate
- Managing, selling or liquidating estate assets as appropriate
- Paying debts or resolving claims against the estate
- Paying taxes due on the estate
- Filing a final tax return for the estate
How is probate avoided?
Probate is a time-consuming process that creates additional costs which can decrease the inheritance for heirs to the estate. For these reasons, avoiding or minimizing probate is often one of the primary goals people have when engaging in estate planning. Although probate cannot always be avoided completely, there are many steps one can take to reduce the size of the probate estate, thereby reducing the time, expenses and complexity of the probate process. Minimizing probate is accomplished by taking assets out of the probate estate and passing them on to relatives, friends, charities and institutions in other ways. Common methods of devising property outside of probate include:
- Revocable trusts
- Jointly titled bank accounts
- Titling property as joint tenants with right of survivorship (JTWROS)
- “Payable on death” or “transfer on death” bank accounts
- Funding insurance policies, retirement plans and other instruments with beneficiary designations
Estate planning attorney Aaron Feldman can help you draft a comprehensive will while also advising you on options to avoid probate consistent with your overall needs and goals.
How does the Feldman Law Group help with common probate issues?
It seems that no matter how thoughtful, careful, expert and thorough your estate planning, some issue always arises during probate that was not foreseen at the time the will was prepared. With over 35 years of legal experience in estate planning and probate in Contra Costa County, attorney Aaron Feldman is well-situated to provide sound advice and professional representation in your probate dispute, no matter how unique or complicated the matter. Some of the most common subjects of probate disputes include:
Multiple wills – People sometimes redraft their will or revoke an old will and write a completely new one. If the old will was not properly amended, revoked or destroyed, it can create confusion and disagreement over which is the true “last will and testament” that should be admitted into probate and given effect by the court.
Invalid will – Drafting and executing a valid will requires hewing to a strict set of statutory requirements in California probate law regarding the testator’s capacity and intent, the presence of witnesses, and other technical aspects of the statute of wills. A challenge or will contest that results in a will being declared invalid may mean there is no will at will, and property will pass according to the California laws of intestate succession.
Fraud, duress or undue influence – Even a will that appears valid on its face may be challenged by beneficiaries who believe a family member or caregiver exercised undue influence on a vulnerable testator, forcing the individual to make a will that did not truly reflect his or her actual wishes. As an experienced elder law and financial elder abuse lawyer, attorney Aaron Feldman provides valuable assistance when dealing with allegations of fraud or undue influence.
Omitted heirs – A spouse or child who expected to inherit under a will but was left out either intentionally or unintentionally may challenge the omission as improper. California law provides an “elective share” to an omitted spouse except under a few specific circumstances. Wills involving blended families with children from a previous marriage may give rise to challenges by omitted or pretermitted heirs.
Challenges to the personal representative – Beneficiaries of the estate may complain that the executor or administrator is failing to properly exercise his or her fiduciary duties as the personal representative of the estate, such as by failing to maintain the value of estate property during probate, or engaging in dealings that involve self-enrichment or a conflict of interest. These issues may especially arise when the personal representative is also an heir or beneficiary of the estate, making the resolution of disputes even more challenging and complex.
The Feldman Law Group is Here for Probate Administration in Contra Costa County
For help with probate administration in Contra Costa County, contact the Feldman Law Group in Walnut Creek for an efficient probate process with the help of a knowledgeable and experienced Walnut Creek probate attorney.