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PROBATE ESTATE LITIGATION

Stepping into the role of “Personal Representative” to handle your loved one’s will or intestate probate estate can be an overwhelming experience. We have decades of experience helping individual and institutional administrators and executors fulfill all their duties efficiently and cost-effectively, and representing executors, administrators, heirs, beneficiaries, spouses, and creditors in probate disputes. Schedule a consultation to see how we can help you.

What Happens at a Probate Hearing?

Probate is the legal process used to distribute property and assets following someone’s death. Probate involves many different players — family members, friends, loved ones, attorneys, executors of wills — all coming together for one common goal: to settle this person’s affairs according to their wishes and ensure they’ve left no loose ends behind. Probate can be complicated, so it’s imperative that you seek out qualified legal counsel before taking any action. 

What are the stages of probate?

There are four basic stages of probate. Each step in the process is detailed in the sections below. 

Stage One — Petition and Notices

Probate begins when a petition to open probate is filed with the Superior Court in the county where the deceased person resided. Once the petition has been received, the court will set a hearing date. All interested persons (the personal representative, heirs, beneficiaries named in the will, and creditors) will receive notice of the date and time of the hearing. 

Stage Two — The First Hearing

At the first hearing, the court will appoint the estate’s personal representative, unless their appointment is contested. If the deceased person left a will that identified a specific person as their executor, the court must approve and finalize the appointment. If the court does not approve or if the individual does not want to serve as the executor, the court may need to appoint someone else. Once a personal representative is accepted, the court will issue Letters Testamentary, which is a legal document that allows the executor to access estate assets and otherwise administer the estate.

Stage Three — Estate Administration 

After the personal representative receives Letters Testamentary, they are responsible for collecting all of the deceased personal assets that are subject to probate. The executor will then be required to submit an inventory of the estate property to the court. 

Once the assets have been inventoried, the personal representative must provide notice of the death to all of the deceased’s creditors. Creditors with outstanding debts can submit claims and receive payment from the inventoried assets. Under California law, creditors must submit claims within four months of the executor’s appointment.

The personal representative must also ensure that state and federal estate taxes are paid before distributing any assets to heirs. 

Stage Four — Final Distribution

After the personal representative has completed all of their responsibilities, they will file a Petition for Final Distribution with the court, which will require a later hearing to be held. At this hearing, the personal representative will provide a detailed accounting regarding the use of estate assets. The judge will review this information to ensure all of the legal requirements were met. Once the judge determines that the estate has been appropriately administered, they will sign the Petition for Final Distribution and close the estate.

Is probate good or bad?

Probate is neither good nor bad, but there are situations where avoiding probate may be beneficial.

Probate can be an expensive time-suck. The proceedings are also part of the public record, including your will. To avoid the costs and time associated with probate and protect their privacy, some people develop estate plans that allow their assets to pass to their loved ones without going through the probate process.

Some common methods for avoiding probate include:

  1. Creating and funding a living trust that distributes your assets to your beneficiaries upon your death.
  2. Establishing “payable on death” (POD) bank accounts and “transfer on death” (TOD) bonds, stocks, and brokerage accounts. 
  3. Jointly owning property so it will automatically pass to the co-owner when you die.
  4. Designating beneficiaries on life insurance and retirement accounts.

You may also be able to bypass the formal probate process when the estate assets qualify for a small estate administration. However, there are some situations where formal probate proceedings can be beneficial, so you should always consult with a probate lawyer to determine the best course of action.

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What Probate Disputes Do Appellate Courts Review?

After someone passes away, the probate court is the venue where their estate is settled, and their will is verified and executed. During this process, there are many different types of decisions the judge must make. If you believe that a decision the probate court made was erroneous, you may be able to file an appeal in the superior court in the same jurisdiction where the probate order was issued. However, under California law, only certain orders can be appealed.

What Happens If You Lose a Probate Court Appeal?

The probate court is a court that handles the administration and distribution of assets to beneficiaries when someone dies, among other matters. If you are unhappy with a probate court decision, it is possible to appeal that decision under certain circumstances, and if you win, the order will be overturned. However, if you lose your appeal, the probate court decision will remain intact, and you will need to decide if you want to appeal to an even higher court.

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OUR CLIENTS

TRUSTEES

We represent individual trustees, professional private fiduciaries, and trust companies understand and execute their duties and responsibilities as trustee, including explaining trust documents and interplay with trust amendments and restatements, assisting with marshaling, inventorying and appraising assets, investigating and responding to creditor claims, preparing accountings, coordinating with tax and other professionals, determining distributions to trust beneficiaries, and seeking judicial approval of trustee acts or omissions, where necessary, so your trust administration is efficient and cost-effective, and so you are protected.

EXECUTORS

Discovering that you have been named executor of a will or that you need to get appointed administrator of a probate estate, especially while dealing with the loss of a loved one, can be overwhelming. We have the expertise to guide you through the appointment process, handling all of the paperwork and probate hearings so you don’t have to, walking you through your duties and responsibilities, preparing accountings, coordinating with tax and other professionals, and responding to beneficiaries so your estate and probate administration is worry free, cost-effective, and efficient.

BENEFICIARIES AND HEIRS

Whether you are an heir, a trust beneficiary, a will beneficiary involved in a probate, or the beneficiary of a bank account, a pension, a 401k or other retirement account, or a life insurance policy, we have the experience to advise you of your rights, what you can expect, when you can expect it, and help guide you through your trust, estate or probate administration, to fight to get what’s yours if you are involved in a trust, estate or probate litigation, and to protect you from abuse by fiduciaries, beneficiaries, and others, including protecting you or your loved ones from financial elder abuse.

CREDITORS

Creditors are people, businesses, or anyone else to whom a decedent owed money at the time of death. Most states probate laws require that creditors act within a limited amount of time after a debtor passes to assert their claims, and if they fail to act within that time or fail to follow the specific procedures and methods prescribed by state probate law, their claims may be time-barred and lost forever. These rules apply similarly when litigation is pending against a defendant who dies during a case. If you are owed money by someone who passed, we can help you recover it.

CONSERVATORS/GUARDIANS

A conservatorship is a process by which a court appoints someone to care for you or your loved one when you or they are unable to provide self-care for their health needs (conservator of the person) or self-manage finances (conservator of the estate), including resisting undue influence and becoming a victim of financial elder abuse. If you think you or a loved needs help or has been or may become the victim of abuse, or if someone is seeking to establish an unnecessary conservatorship for you or a loved one, we can help prosecute or defend your conservatorship.

SPOUSES

Spouses enjoy a special status under many state probate laws that give them special inheritance rights and benefits, including priority for appointment as executor for a deceased spouse’s estate, a right to seek a family allowance for life’s necessities during the pendency of an administration, an ability to pursue a spousal property petition and possibly avoid probate altogether, and, in some states, community property rights.  Entitlement to these rights and the legal procedures that need to be followed to protect them are complex, especially when complicated by family law issues like prenuptial agreements.  If you are a surviving spouse, even if you were in the middle of a divorce at the time of death, we can help you.

SCHEDULE A FREE CONSULTATION

Schedule your free consultation here and we’ll contact you at your convenience.

SCHEDULE A FREE CONSULTATION

Schedule your free consultation here and we’ll contact you at your convenience.

Communication Disclaimer

Please note that communications by you to RMO LLP or any of its lawyers through this website do not create an attorney-client relationship between you and the firm. Do not send any privileged or confidential information to the firm through this website or otherwise until instructed in writing from us to do so. 

SCOTT RAHN

FOUNDER & MANAGING PARTNER
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2029 Century Park E
#2910
Los Angeles, CA 90067
(424) 320-9444
hello@rmolawyers.com
3200 Park Center Dr
#270
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(949) 226-8509
hello@rmolawyers.com
1450 Frazee Road
#102
San Diego, CA 92108
(619) 323-3200
hello@rmolawyers.com
3534 Ocean Drive
Oxnard, CA 93035
(805) 308-7333
hello@rmolawyers.com
2300 Main Street, #929 Kansas City, MO 64108 (816) 705-1033 hello@rmolawyers.com
2600 Douglas Road
Suite 502
Coral Gables, FL 33134
(786) 761-8333
hello@rmolawyers.com