Estate Administration Assistance in the Conejo Valley
Losing a loved one is never easy, no matter the circumstances. In the immediate aftermath, you will understandably be dealing with an unimaginable amount of grief and pain. Despite these realities and the vulnerability of your position, you may be asked to step up and oversee the administration of your loved one's estate. California probate can quickly become overwhelming if you are unfamiliar with the process.
At the Law Offices of Kent W. Keating, we are prepared to offer the compassionate guidance you need to confidently navigate matters of estate administration. Our Thousand Oaks probate lawyer has over 35 years of experience and fully understands what you are going through. We recognize that the last thing you want to do is become mired in legal procedures, which is why we will always work to settle your loved one's estate quickly as possible.
Who Serves as the Executor in California?
The executor is the person who assumes control of an estate and is responsible for its administration. In other words, they are in charge of probate until the estate is closed and will need to work with the applicable court to settle the deceased person's affairs.
If the deceased person left behind a will, the document should include their choice of executor. Typically, people will choose someone they trust to make smart choices and honor their final instructions. If the California court accepts the will as valid, they will almost always recognize the deceased's requested executor.
But what happens if the chosen executor is deceased, unavailable, or unwilling? What if the will is ruled to be invalid or there is no will at all?
In scenarios where this is no clear executor, another interested party has the right to come forward and nominate themselves for the role. Family members tend to receive preference, but friends or other interested parties – such as a creditor, lawyer, or banker – may also be considered.
If no one comes forward, the court may directly ask someone to assume the role of the executor. Again, they will in most cases first consider surviving relatives, but they could turn to friends or other contacts.
If there is any confusion over who will serve as the executor of your loved one's estate, get in touch with our Thousand Oaks probate attorney. We can help you request the role and explore all other estate administration options.
How Probate Works in California
A person's estate must be settled in the eyes of the law after they pass away, even if they used a revocable living trust or other estate planning tools to avoid the bulk of probate. This starts with the appointment of the executor.
Contrary to what some may believe, probate is not merely the distribution of assets to heirs. Assets can only be given to beneficiaries after the executor has settled debts and completed several other important tasks.
Once an executor has been recognized by the court, they must fulfill numerous responsibilities, including:
- Locating, inventorying, appraising, and protecting estate assets
- Notifying all heirs, beneficiaries, and creditors
- Reviewing and settling creditor claims
- Filing the deceased person's final tax return
- Distributing assets to beneficiaries (in accordance with the will's instructions or California's intestacy laws)
As you can see, being an executor is a tall order, especially if you are still in the process of mourning your loved one. It is okay to ask for help, especially if you encounter complications. Our team at the Law Offices of Kent W. Keating is here for you and can provide comprehensive support throughout the probate process.
How Will Contests Work in California
Interested parties have the right to challenge the validity or enforceability of a will in California. An interested party can be a spouse, child, creditor, beneficiary, or anyone who may be affected by whether the current will is accepted.
A California will can be contested on the following grounds:
- Improper Execution. A will is not valid merely because the deceased person wrote it. The will must be signed by the testator in the presence of two witnesses, who must also sign the document. If this requirement is not met, the will is not valid. (Note that California does recognize handwritten wills, which need only be signed by the testator.)
- Lack of Capacity. A will is only valid if the testator was of sound mind at the time they wrote and signed the document. If there is evidence the testator was experiencing mental decline at the time they created the current draft, the will may not be enforceable.
- Undue Influence. A will may not be enforceable if another party manipulated the testator or otherwise became inappropriately involved in the drafting of the document.
- Fraud. A will is fraudulent if the document was not written or signed by the testator or if the testator was tricked into signing a document that they did not realize was their will.
- Duress. A will is not enforceable if the testator was inappropriately confined or manipulated into writing the document under threat of violence or some other form of harm.
- Revocation. A will is not enforceable if there is evidence that the testator canceled the draft before they passed away.
- Mistake. A testator is not necessarily infallible, and they could make a mistake. For example, they may not be clear on how much property they actually own. An interested party can contest the will if a mistake makes the document invalid or if a mistake causes an outcome that goes against the testator's true intent.
A will contest will halt the probate process until the conflict is resolved, meaning any distribution of assets to beneficiaries will be substantially delayed (or even jeopardized, if the contest is successful). Our Thousand Oaks probate lawyer understands how to strategically approach these contentious, high-stakes conflicts from both sides. If you are an executor, we will diligently work to protect the decedent's estate and settle the matter as swiftly and favorably as possible. We can also assist interested parties with bringing will contests if there is reason to believe the current will should not be considered valid.