What Is Estate Litigation in California? 2024

Lynard C. Hinojosa

Estate litigation isn’t the flashiest part of the legal system. You likely won’t see battles over someone’s estate on primetime TV or in a Hollywood movie. However, estate litigation serves an important purpose in our legal system, attempting to make sure everyone’s final wishes come true.

Estate litigation in California is complex, and an experienced attorney can help ensure your estate administers your wishes and protects your loved ones.  Learn more about the basics of estate litigation and how Hinojosa and Forer LLP can help.

Estate Litigation: The Basics

When someone dies and leaves a will, the court will attempt to fulfill the terms laid out in the document and ensure all assets head where the deceased intended. Sometimes, this process proceeds quickly and smoothly. But in other instances, a dispute occurs that causes a legal battle in probate court. This legal dispute is the basis of estate litigation.

Estate litigation can happen when the individual doesn’t have a will, but there are instances where even a will is not enough to prevent a battle of an estate. The familial dynamic of estate litigation can often lead to the situation becoming tense and uncomfortable.

Before the case heads to probate court, all the parties involved will file any claims they want to make and open the floor to discovery. A probate judge will then ask the parties to participate in mediation to see if they can come to any kind of agreement. If they can’t reach common ground, then it’s time to head to probate court to argue the case in front of a judge.

Most people will hire an estate litigation or trust litigation lawyer for the process.

What Happens at Probate Court?

Estate disputes in probate court often result in a bench trial where the judge precedes over the case. Occasionally, mostly in instances of disputes over conservatorship, the probate court sees a jury trial.

Judges will allow both parties to present any evidence and testimony they believe strengthens their claim about the interpretation of a will. There’s even an opportunity for opening and closing statements. In essence, a trial in probate court plays out much like any other civil dispute or a criminal trial.

Once the court has all the evidence and heard all the testimony, the judge will make a ruling. The parties are allowed to file an appeal after the ruling if they believe the verdict was improper. Probate court also allows the parties to negotiate on the terms during the trial to avoid a judge’s ruling.

What Kind of Estate Disputes Happen?

Estate disputes happen for several reasons, the most obvious example being when the deceased did not leave a will. Anyone in line to inherit some or all of the estate will likely have opinions on how the court should distribute the assets. The parties will head to probate court for an estate litigation case if they cannot agree.

Even when the deceased left a will behind, estate litigation can come into play. A party might attempt to discredit the document’s validity and file for a will contest. They could attempt to show the writer was not of sound mind when making the will or they were under duress.

Other instances of estate litigation are when someone believes the executor did not handle the will properly. The heirs may not have received the proper payments, or the executor may have misappropriated the money in the estate.

Do You Need Legal Representation When Going to Probate Court?

Some people handle any estate law by themselves with little trouble. But if the situation escalates to the point where estate litigation is on the table, hiring legal representation is imperative.

Estate lawyers understand the nuances of estate law in California and can formulate a compelling case to bring to a judge in probate court. These attorneys have plenty of experience working on cases and know the strategies that give them the greatest chance to secure a win for their clients.

The other parties in an estate dispute will likely have lawyers on their side, so you need to bring a lawyer with you to even the odds when fighting for what you deserve in court.

FAQs About Estate Litigation in California

What Is the Probate Limit in California in 2024?

California law says that any estate worth $166,250 or less is eligible for a simplified procedure. This process allows everyone to avoid probate court and handle the affair privately. While $166,250 is the probate limit in California, an estate may end up with the formal process depending on the type of assets the estate is leaving behind.

How Long Does an Executor Have to Settle an Estate in California?

California law dictates an executor must settle an estate within one year from the date of appointment to the position. This time gives the executor the chance to get a handle on the situation and distribute funds as needed. Executors who file for federal estate tax will have an extra six months to complete the settling process.

Can You Settle an Estate Without Probate in California?

Any estate under $166,250 can move through the simplified probate process in California that avoids the heavy fees and extensive time commitment of probate court. If the deceased left behind real estate, then you will need to go through the traditional probate process. An estate law attorney will help you determine if the simplified process is possible for your case.

What Happens When an Estate Goes to Probate Court in California?

If there’s a dispute over the terms of a will or if someone died without leaving a will behind, the case may end up as estate litigation in probate court. Both sides will present their evidence and any testimony to back up their claims. Then, a judge will rule on how the court will distribute the estate.

Hinojosa & Forer LLP: Trust and Estate Litigation You Can Count On

Estate law is tricky, and trying to handle any estate litigation case yourself can lead to a poor outcome for you and your family. When you’re facing estate litigation and need someone to support you, consider Hinojosa & Forer LLP for the job. Contact us today to discuss your case and how we can help.




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