Estate Litigation in California
California Estate Litigation Lawyers With Expertise in Elder Law
One of the most important decisions most individuals will make is deciding how their assets will be distributed upon their death. After all, creating an estate plan is the most effective way to ensure that your family and friends are provided for after you die. But many individuals put these decisions off until late in life when they reach an advanced age, which exposes them to the risk of financial elder abuse. When this type of elder abuse affects an individual’s estate plan, it can call the plan’s validity into question and expose the estate and the decedent’s heirs to the threat of estate litigation. For more information about estate litigation in California, please contact an attorney at a California estate planning and litigation law firm.
Financial Elder Abuse in Estate Planning
A paramount concern of the courts when supervising the probate of a decedent’s will is distributing the decedent’s assets according to his or her wishes. As such, financial elder abuse manifests in the context of estate planning primarily through actions that manipulate or otherwise take advantage of the elder. When that occurs, the decedent’s estate planning documents can no longer be considered reliable and may end up being litigated. Estate planning documents can end up in estate litigation in several ways, including:
A will is a legal document containing a set of instructions that specify how an individual’s assets are distributed upon his or her death. A legally valid will in California must comply with a strict set of requirements that are intended to ensure its validity, such as the requirements that it be in writing and that the testator signs it in the presence of at least two witnesses. Failure to meet any of those requirements can cause the validity of the will to be called into question, possibly leading to estate litigation.
Trusts are similar to wills in that they can be used to transfer an individual’s assets to one or more beneficiaries upon his or her death. However, they can be used for many other estate planning purposes as well. Like wills, legally valid trusts in California are also subject to statutory requirements, such as that the settlor manifests a clear intention to establish a trust and identify the assets to be held within it. If these or any other requirements are not met, the trust may be challenged and end up in estate litigation.
Generally, fraud occurs when the perpetrator misrepresents material facts to induce the victim to take a specific action (or refrain from taking a particular action) that they would not have taken otherwise. It can occur in several ways in the estate planning context. For example, a child could tell his mother that her other child had died to induce her to change her will to leave her entire estate to him when, in fact, the other child is still alive. It could also occur where the perpetrator surreptitiously changes the terms of the victim’s will without his or her knowledge or induces the victim to sign a will containing terms the perpetrator knows are contrary to the victim’s wishes. Anyone who suspects that a will is the product of fraud must demonstrate the fraud in estate litigation.
Undue influence occurs where the perpetrator overpowers the will of the victim to such an extent that the victim cannot be said to have acted voluntarily. It often occurs when the perpetrator is in a position of power or control over the victim, making the victim especially vulnerable to the perpetrator’s persuasion. Undue influence is a very common form of financial elder abuse in the estate planning context, as elders with diminished mental capacity are susceptible to persuasion over their wills and trusts.
Power of Attorney Corruption
Those who hold power of attorney for another person have an extraordinary responsibility to act in the principal’s best interests. Unfortunately, many who hold power of attorney over incapacitated elders engage in power of attorney corruption by misappropriating the elder’s assets. In cases where the principal lacks capacity, removing a power of attorney may require a court order.
Why You Need a California Estate Litigation Lawyer for These Issues
Estate litigation is complicated and the stakes can be enormous. These issues are governed by complex laws and procedures that may confuse and overwhelm individuals who attempt to take on the system alone. By contrast, estate litigation lawyers are experts in these matters and have many years of experience advocating for their clients’ interests. They know the law and procedure inside and out and can make the strongest case possible.
What your lawyer will do depends on what your estate litigation issue is. For example, if you believe that certain terms in a will are the result of fraud or undue influence, your attorney will investigate your claims, weigh the merits of your case, and, if necessary, initiate legal proceedings. Your attorney can also help you to determine whether financial elder abuse is occurring, as they can identify the red flags that indicate such abuse and investigate the facts.. In the most general terms, lawyers will offer you counsel and advice to help you make the best decisions.
When Should You See a California Elder Lawyer Regarding Estate Law Concerns?
It is not always clear when (or even if) you should seek the advice of a lawyer. But in the context of financial elder abuse, there are several red flags you should be aware of that might indicate that you should speak to an attorney, such as:
- An elder changes her estate planning documents suddenly
- An elder’s estate planning documents make unusual dispositions of property
- An elder has a “new friend” who is influencing her behavior
- There is money mysteriously missing from an elder’s accounts
- Unpaid bills and collection letters begin to accumulate
- Sudden changes in an elder’s mood and demeanor
However, these are merely a few warning signs indicating that an elder is suffering financial elder abuse.
At Evans Law Firm, We Have Attorneys Experienced in Elder Law and Estate Planning
If you believe that someone you love is suffering financial elder abuse in the context of their estate plan, please contact an attorney at Evans Law Firm, a San Francisco-based estate planning and litigation law firm representing clients throughout California. You can reach our lawyers by using our online form or calling us at 415-441-8669.