Experienced California Attorneys Litigate Probate Disputes
San Francisco lawyers represent clients in inheritance conflicts
A loved one’s legacy can ease the pain of loss by reminding heirs of a departed family member’s enduring love. But when questions arise about the validity of a will or the management of estate assets, uncertainty can arouse animosity and prevent closure. If you, as a beneficiary, suspect that a will does not reflect the wishes of the deceased, you have a right to challenge the proceedings in court. Similarly, if you believe an executor, trustee or estate administrator is mismanaging estate assets, you have standing to raise that issue. On the other hand, an executor or estate administrator is entitled to a vigorous defense against accusations of incompetence or unlawful conduct. The Law Offices of Paul J. Steiner provides highly professional representation for aggrieved beneficiaries and accused fiduciaries in estate disputes.
Challenges to the validity of a will
There are several bases for challenging a will. These include:
- Lack of capacity — This ground alleges that the testator was not of sound mind at the time the will or trust was executed.
- Undue influence — Documents might be invalid if a person with access to and power over the testator used emotional manipulation to gain special consideration in the will.
- Fraud — This ground alleges the testator was deceived about the contents of the document at the time of execution.
- Void for vagueness — This ground asserts that the terms of a will are open to conflicting interpretations and it is impossible to know which interpretation is correct. A challenger can prevent part or all of the will from being implemented.
Many probate disputes stem from suspicions that a particular individual took advantage of the declining health or dementia of the deceased to insinuate himself into the will to the detriment of the rightful heirs. The court looks very harshly on this type of elder exploitation. However, it is important to note that disappointment is not grounds for an heir to challenge a will. All challenges must be supported by reliable evidence.
Breach of fiduciary duty in estate settlement and trust management
The executor of a will or the administrator of an intestate estate is a fiduciary with a legal duty to manage estate assets according to the testator’s wishes and for the benefit of the beneficiaries. The fiduciary must perform at a professional standard so that assets are not lost due to waste, fraud, misallocation or mismanagement. Beneficiaries may challenge deliberate or negligent misconduct and demand a full accounting. Our attorneys have vast experience on both sides of trust and estate controversies. Our firm has close associations with forensic accountants who can render accurate assessments of asset management and help us assemble evidence to prove or rebut allegations.
Don’t expect success if you handle objections yourself
Many people hesitate to hire an attorney because they wish to keep a family dispute within the family. However, the court may treat your suspicions lightly if you raise them without a professional presentation and a firm basis in the law that an attorney can provide. Moreover, a seasoned attorney who has been through such negotiations before is likely to produce a settlement that satisfies all parties and allows the proceedings to move forward at less cost to the estate.
Contact an established trust and estate litigation law firm in California
Conflicts among beneficiaries or between beneficiaries and fiduciaries can be very destructive without experienced and knowledgeable legal counsel. The Law Offices of Paul J. Steiner provides capable representation for beneficiaries and fiduciaries throughout California. Call today at 415-675-1541 or contact us online to schedule a consultation at their San Francisco office.