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Irvine Legal Blog

Protecting vacant rental property from squatters

Landlords with vacant property should take note of the shortage of available housing and the rising number of homeless people in California as it correlates to an increase in squatters.

A squatter is someone who unlawfully occupies uninhabited property. Historically, California law tends to leniently treat people living in homes they do not legally own or rent. Law enforcement who consider squatters a civil matter rather than criminal problem adds to the issue.

Handling credit card debt after death

After California residents die, spouses or others who are left behind may wonder if they are responsible for the decedent's credit card debt. In most cases, they are not. However, it is possible that debt collectors or others may try to convince a surviving loved one to pay it.

An individual is generally responsible for paying a deceased loved one's credit card debt if he or she was on the account. Furthermore, surviving spouses who live in a community property state could be responsible for the obligation if it was considered a joint marital debt. If it was considered a separate debt, an individual wouldn't be liable for paying it off. In the event that neither of these criteria are met, the decedent's estate is generally responsible for paying a credit card debt.

Probate process provides a means to challenge invalid wills

After a person in California dies, their estate enters probate, the process by which their property is transferred after death. Probate collects property, ensures debts are paid from the estate and then sees that the property is distributed according to the wishes of the person who passed away. This is possible if the person has enshrined their wishes in a written document, most frequently a will.

Probate courts supervise the process by which property is distributed. Non-probate transfers are not included in the process, including life insurance and "payable on death" bank accounts. This also includes homes that are owned by joint tenants with a right of survivorship. Many people seek to avoid the majority of their property passing through probate by creating alternate forms of transfer, including gifts and trusts. The primary reason to avoid probate is in order to help property pass without fees or delays.

Be aware of estate theft

The truth about estate theft is that it happens much more often than you think. A full spectrum of people steal from deceased people’s estates. Among them are trusted members of the community; former caregivers, relatives, estate administrators and funeral home employees are caught in this type of crime.

Also, it is not only multi-million dollar estates that are targeted for theft, a wide variety of estates become targets for crime. Here are some examples of the ways estates get cheated out of assets and property.

Estate litigation on the rise

Dealing with probate issues after the death of a loved one can be a difficult time for many families and individuals. However, this may be exacerbated when the situation is complicated by disputes over inheritances and other estate matters. A number of reasons can spawn estate litigation to deal with challenges and questions that emerge after a person's death.

Experts speculate that there may be an overall increase in estate litigation in 2018; as more people in an aging society pass away, there are more potential opportunities for issues to arise. In addition, major generational wealth transfer is a significant factor because battles over large estates are more likely to give rise to litigation. There have also been significant changes in trust law over the past 10 years as many states pass trust decanting statutes or adopt the Uniform Trust Code as part of state law.

Dispute over Manson's body comes to end in court

The death of infamous California cult leader Charles Manson led to a lengthy dispute over his body, as three separate people contended for the right to his remains in court. However, in March 2018, a court ruled in favor of a man who claims to be Manson's grandson. Manson died in prison in November 2017 while serving a life sentence in prison for a scandalous 1969 series of murders. His remains were stored in Kern County while the litigation continued in court.

While the man did not immediately address the plans he has for Manson's body, he had previously stated that he planned to cremate the body and spread his ashes. The man's attorney said that he saw a benefit to a public scattering of Manson's ashes. Seven people were killed in the series of murders over two nights in 1969; the victims included pregnant actress Sharon Tate. While the legal battle may have been resolved in terms of the handling of Manson's body, more disputes are still to come when it comes to the remainder of his estate.

Probate litigation can pursue claims against an estate

After a person passes away in California, his or her estate will enter into the probate process, where claims against the estate are handled. Probate claims can arise for any number of reasons from inheritance disputes to late wills that may have been executed due to undue influence by a beneficiary. Creditors of the deceased individual may also have a reason to file a claim once that person's estate has entered probate.

The period for claiming a probate claim generally begins once the estate has formally entered the probate process. The court will appoint a personal representative of the estate, sometimes the named executor of the will or a separate party named by the court. Once the personal representative is sworn in, he or she will file a death notice in a widely circulated local newspaper in order to alert potential claimants that the estate has entered probate. Once this period has begun, a claim can be filed with the court that is handling the estate. This court will generally be located where the person who passed away lived, and the claim will need to be filed there regardless of the person who is submitting it.

Several claims filed for probate of Charles Manson's estate

A California courtroom is the site of a battle over the estate of the late Charles Manson. Manson, who died in 2017 after spending almost five decades in prison, was notorious for his involvement in the murder of nine people.

Three people are competing for probate of the estate. One man says he is Manson's son and has asked that the other two claims be dismissed. According to his claim, Manson died without a will. A second man claims to be the grandson of Manson and the son of the late Charles Manson, Jr., who killed himself in 1993. Reportedly, a DNA test performed on him and compared with another of Manson's sons was negative. Court papers also show that Manson denied being related to the man.

Unsealing of Harper Lee's will reveals little new information

California fans of the work of the late author Harper Lee may be aware that in keeping with the private life she led, her will was also made private. However, on Feb. 27, following a lawsuit from The New York Times, the will was unsealed.

Lee had directed her literary properties and most of her assets to a trust called The Mockingbird Trust. She formed this in 2011, and trusts are private. Lee's longtime lawyer was named as the executor of the estate. Court documents indicated that Lee also left an undisclosed amount to her nephews and niece, her closest relatives. The will was signed by Lee eight days before her death.

Live in LA, write your will in LA

Johnny Hallyday was the most famous rockstar in France. He was a French citizen and was mourned by the entire nation when he died there last December.

Despite this, Hallyday declared his official residence here in Los Angeles, mostly to avoid the steep French taxes. He also wrote his will here, under California law. When he disinherited his oldest children, the French legal system cried sacre bleu! That’s not how it is done in France. But the will is valid and the legal process highlights how probate often works across borders.

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