Probate is the legal process where the court verifies the validity of a deceased person’s will. Probate involves the collection of the decedent’s assets, liquidation of their liabilities, making current tax payments, and distributing the decedent’s property to heirs, also known as beneficiaries.
When a decedent’s will is in place, the probate court acts to ensure that the Last Will and Testament are valid. The court then directs the executor of the will to pay off the decedent’s debts and distribute assets to beneficiaries as directed by the will. However, when someone passes away without a will, the court’s first step is to appoint an executor. The court-appointed executor then fulfills the same role as an executor when a valid will is in place.
The probate process can be arduous, whether you are an executor or beneficiary. Having an experienced probate attorney can make the long and often complex probate process easier. Flanigan Law Group has dedicated probate attorneys to assist residents of California as they navigate the probate process.
Having a valid will generally makes the probate process straightforward. When a will is vague or doesn’t exist, there are potential problems that may arise. This can then lead to a lengthier and more complicated probate process.
Common Problems That Arise During Probate Proceedings
Many issues can occur at any point during the probate process due to the length of time and number of stakeholders involved. It is key for all involved in the estate to be aware of the challenges that may arise in probate. These issues can delay the settlement process or otherwise disrupt what should typically be a straightforward legal process.
Families can experience conflict during probate in any number of ways; some common situations involving family members include:
- Misunderstandings regarding inheritance
- Improperly named beneficiaries
- Unclear wording in a Trust or Will
- Decisions regarding the family home
These conflicts between family members can lead to litigation and delays in probate, requiring additional time and money to properly resolve.
The Designated Executor Does Not Wish to Fulfill the Role
A very common issue that arises early in probate is when an executor refuses the role. There may be several reasons that an individual will decline to act as the executor of a will. Most often, the person simply does not want the responsibility of carrying out the duties required.
Sometimes, the designated executor cannot fulfill his or her role. This may be the case if the executor has also died or is in poor health. These instances create problems where the court must appoint someone who can act in the executor’s place.
The Executor Fails to Fulfill Their Fiduciary Duties Adequately
The executor of a will has a substantial responsibility during the probate process. In accordance with state law, executors are held to high standards of conduct and expected to act with integrity. Executors are expected to work for the estate and not for themselves.
Occasionally, an executor fails to adequately perform their duties due to a lack of knowledge about the probate process. Other times, an executor may deliberately engage in fraudulent behavior against the estate. In both instances, the result can be devastating for beneficiaries. Failure on the part of an executor can lead to claims of deceit or negligence, which extend probate proceedings.
Someone Contests the Will
Once a will enters into probate, an heir of the current will or an heir listed in a previous version of a will has the ability to file a dispute. They may do so if they believe the will is not truthfully representative of the decedent’s wishes.
There are several instances where a will can be disputed, including:
- Undue InfluenceWhen a decedent was incapacitated, elderly, or otherwise vulnerable, a beneficiary may have grounds to contest a will. A will may be contested if the beneficiary suspects the decedent was taken advantage of while drafting the will.
- Mental CapacityIf a beneficiary believes the deceased was not of sound mind due to illness, substance abuse, or a mental health disorder, they can contest a will. Proof that the decedent had the capacity to create a legally binding document must be provided for the will to stand.
- Provision ViolationIn California, a will must be signed by the creator in front of two witnesses who also sign the document. Neither witness is allowed to be named as a beneficiary in the document. If any of these conditions are violated, the validity of a will can be called into question.
- Multiple Versions of a WillThere are cases when someone has drafted more than one will to update their estate plan. Most often, the court considers the new document as the legal document, and the old document is deemed invalid.
Costly Creditor Claims
Legitimate claims made against an estate must be honored and paid. When a creditor makes a claim for a large amount, the amount must be taken from the estate to satisfy the claim. If, for any reason, an executor wishes to dispute the claim, in full or in part, this can cause probate delays.
Not Having a Qualified Probate Attorney
The process of drafting estate documents requires the expertise of an attorney who handles probate matters. Having a probate attorney ensures that estate documents are completed accurately and in a timely manner. Mistakes made on estate documents, such as a Last Will and Testament, cause costly delays and complicate the distribution process for beneficiaries.
When you choose to work with Flanigan Law group, you can rest assured that the final wishes dictated in your will are handled by caring and experienced legal professionals.
Flanigan Law Group Can Help You Navigate the Probate Process
Probate can be an overwhelming process for all parties involved, especially when there is no will in place to determine the final wishes of a decedent. Whether or not a will exists, the expertise of a skilled Orange County Probate Attorney is needed to help protect the interests of the parties involved.
Flanigan Law Group has a team of probate and estate attorneys who will work to protect your interests throughout the probate process. We dedicate ourselves to creating the best possible outcome for every one of our valued clients. Contact our Irvine, California, law firm to discuss your goals with a member of our team today.