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.
However, in many cases, probate can be important to protect everyone involved and work to ensure that the will of the deceased is put into place. In some cases, probate litigation can arise when people contest the version of the will entered into a court. An heir may challenge the amount of property that they are awarded or may question the validity of a will. For example, they may say that the person was improperly influenced by another person who sought to benefit or was incompetent to draft a will at the time it was executed. Probate challenges are one of the major ways to challenge the theft of an inheritance.
People who are concerned that a will entered into probate does not actually reflect the desires of the deceased person or unfairly denies them an inheritance can challenge it in court. A probate litigation attorney may represent people who wish to challenge a will and help them raise clear objections to the document.