Even when a will is set in place, when a family member dies, disputes can arise as to the division of assets and settling the estate. The probate process must resolve all financial and property-related disputes caused by a person's death. Because of this, probate courts are sometimes tasked with solving strange and unexpected problems.
This was the case after the recent death of notorious cult leader Charles Manson on November 19, 2017. Three months after his death, family members are still struggling to even get a hearing to resolve their conflicting claims to his remains.
Whatever common or uncommon problems you face, an experienced Santa Clara and Los Angeles probate attorney can protect your rights during the administration of a loved one's estate. The estate litigators at Hackard Law can help you identify your rights with respect to an estate, and how best to protect them throughout the probate process.
The Bizarre Estate Problems of Charles Manson
The Mercury News reports on a series of procedural obstacles faced by relatives seeking to settle the Manson estate. Recently, a probate judge ruled that Los Angeles County probate courts should continue to litigate Manson's will and related matters. That court, however, cannot decide the dispute over Manson's remains, because Manson did not die in Los Angeles County. This ruling came in response to a petition filed by Manson's grandson to decide the disposition of remains in Los Angeles County, where Manson lived and organized his cult before going to prison. Relatives will have to file their claims in Kings County, where the state imprisoned Manson more than fifty years ago, or in Kern County, where he died in a Bakersfield hospital.
All of these proceedings have challenges from other unlikely sources. Michael Channels, a longtime pen pal who visited Manson in prison in 2002, claims to possess a will signed by Manson. This will purports to give Channels control of Manson's remains and names him executor of the Manson estate. Manson's grandson claims that the signature on that will is a forgery. Meanwhile, another man has filed a petition for the remains, claiming that he is Manson's son with Mary Brunner, a member of Manson's notorious "Family." Paternity remains unconfirmed. This man seeks to cremate Manson's remains immediately.
While not all estates present such bizarre issues or vast numbers of claimants, a wide variety of issues can complicate any estate. Stepfamilies in particular often face conflict in the probate process. Claimants need the assistance of an experienced probate attorney who can protect their legal rights at all stages of probate administration.
Bequests to Animals
Many people think of pets as members of their families and, as such, want to provide for their pets should they pass away before the pet. Singer Dusty Springfield ("Son of a Preacher Man") reportedly left specific instructions regarding her dog, Nicholas. Survivors should only feed the dog special imported food, line the dog's bed with her nightgowns, and play Springfield's songs as the dog went to bed. Other people are not so specific, but leave an amount of money to go toward the pet's care.
While pet owners may mean well, these bequests often cause issues in probate cases, because courts do not recognize animals as having the same rights as human beings.
Since a pet is not a person or legal entity that can benefit from a trust or will, courts do not always honor those bequests. However, in 1990, the Uniform Probate Code was amended to include a provision allowing honorary trusts for pets. Some states have adopted this provision, while others have not. Still, probate courts have varying views on pet bequests and may:
- Declare them invalid
- Tolerate the bequests but claim they cannot legally enforce them
- Declare them valid and enforceable
You need an attorney who understands how the specific jurisdiction hearing a probate case will handle these bequests.
Other Odd Will Provisions
While some wills are relatively straightforward, other people may get creative with their wills without realizing the complicating effects they may have on the probate process. The following examples of some odd requests in wills took some time for the courts to figure out how to implement them.
- A man in Vermont, John Porter Bowman, died in the 1800s after losing his wife and daughter. He believed that the family would be reincarnated together and, therefore, left a trust funded with $50,000 and specific instructions. The trustee should use the funds to maintain the Bowman mansion and prepare dinner every night in case the family came back to life hungry.
- Comedian Jack Benny passed away in 1974 and wanted his wife to remember he loved her. His will directed that someone should deliver a long-stemmed rose to her every day for the rest of her life.
- Mark Gruenwald was a major player in Marvel Comics and wanted to remain a part of the comics--quite literally--after his death in 1996. His will requested that Marvel mix his ashes with the ink that would print the company's comic books. Marvel reportedly honored his request.
Most wills may not include such eccentric provisions as the ones mentioned above, but they still may raise unforeseen issues during the probate process that skilled legal guidance from Hackard Law can help to head off.
Protect Your Legal Rights in All Probate Issues
The probate process can resolve many common--and uncommon--issues. Family, friends, and other potential beneficiaries should consult with an experienced estate attorney to protect their rights in the probate court. Hackard Law serves clients going through the probate process throughout California. We have decades of experience litigating all types of probate issues, and we can help you work through these issues to find a just resolution. To schedule a free initial consultation with a member of our legal team, please call our Los Angeles office today at (213) 357-5200 or our Santa Clara office at (916) 313-3030, or send us an email through our online contact form.