Estate Attorney Dealing with Litigation

If you become involved in estate litigation, whether you wish to challenge or defend the estate, you need the help of a California estate attorney to represent your interests.

Estate litigation occurs when someone challenges a will or estate plan during the probate process. Being a party to such litigation is a stressful situation for all those involved. When a person dies, the estate is divided according to the wishes of the deceased or, if there is no will, this is left up to probate court.

While most estates are divided without being challenged, even the most well-drafted estate plans can be challenged when someone feels they were not treated fairly and is willing to bring a lawsuit to rectify the situation. Cases may drag on for long periods of time and become very contentious, draining the estate and causing hard feelings for all parties.

Hackard Law’s estate litigation practice group is a team of California estate attorneys recognized for their experience and success as litigators involving disputes in the field of California probate, trusts, and estates. Our seasoned trial attorneys have years of experience in the probate courts and in-depth knowledge of the substantive law and unique procedures applicable to probate, trust and estate contests in California’s major urban areas. For that reason, we often represent individual fiduciaries and beneficiaries in large and significant disputes involving probate, trust contests, and estates.

Whether your estate dispute is large or small, we provide our clients with the same degree of respect and commitment to excellence. An estate attorney at Hackard Law offers a free consultation to discuss your individual estate litigation situation and show you how we can help. Call us today at 916-313-3030.

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Why Use Our Sacramento Estate Attorneys

Hackard Law’s estate litigation practice group recognizes that probate, trusts, and estate issues involve people – people often stressed by the loss of a loved one and the pain of a family in dispute.

We’ve had clients ask us whether they “have a fighting chance” to prevail in their estate dispute. Our job is to give our clients a fighting chance. Our Sacramento estate attorneys do this in a variety of ways, including the following:

  • Michael Hackard provides leadership and credibility. Michael Hackard has represented high-net-worth families, individuals and businesses in California estate law over four decades of practice, earning Super Lawyer status, Martindale-Hubbell’s AV-Preeminent rating, and other awards through years of fighting for his clients. The leadership and credibility he brings to court pleadings and court practice results in a legal team that is committed to excellence and respect for our clients and their needs.
  • Our estate attorneys are seasoned and knowledgeable in estate litigation. Many law firms involved in California trust and estate litigation assign these cases to attorneys who are fundamentally estate planners with limited or no experience handling major contested matters in the probate courts. Other firms rely on civil litigators with little or no experience in the fields of probate, trust and estate law. Hackard Law is unique: we offer seasoned trial attorneys with many years of experience in the probate courts and in-depth knowledge of the substantive law and procedures applicable to probate, trust and estate contests in California’s major urban areas. Our battle-ready attorneys know the ins and outs of complex estate cases.
  • We have a proven record of success. Thanks to our success in court, we have the credibility to obtain the most favorable settlements of disputes for our clients in mediation or even before litigation ensues. We also counsel our clients about estate litigation avoidance, and we can provide sophisticated advice that only comes from years of experience in probate, trust, and estate law in California’s major Superior Court venues. Let us fight for you – we know the battlefield, and we’re ready to engage.

Our Estate Lawyers Handle a Wide Range of Litigation

Estate litigation often comes about due to challenges of the will during the probate process. Common reasons include failure to meet the execution requirements of the California Probate Code or improper actions by the representative or executor of the estate. To start with, the will must have been drafted correctly, with the deceased and two witnesses signing the will, or the deceased must have made handwritten pertinent provisions. Under the California Probate Code, a will is not valid if:

  • It was signed by a person under duress or undue influence.
  • The will was created due to mistake or fraud.
  • The signer lacked the mental capacity to understand his or her actions.
Often-litigated claims we manage include:
  • Financial Abuse of the Elderly. Estate lawyers at Hackard Law frequently prosecute wrongdoers who have taken or hidden the assets of elderly persons and their estates. It is not uncommon for a caregiver, family member, or even an accountant or financial planner to trick or pressure an elderly person to leave them their assets. We value the opportunity to do justice for the aggrieved elderly and their families, so contact us if you suspect this type of abuse. We aggressively protect the rights of those who are harmed by financial abuse of the elderly.
  • Beneficiary Litigation. Hackard Law often protects the rights of beneficiaries of estates, trusts, and insurance policies. Other beneficiaries or unscrupulous estate fiduciaries might target those who are to receive the benefits of an estate and cheat them out of their inheritance. If you suspect these tactics, seeking out legal guidance early is often appropriate.
  • Will Contests. We vigorously prosecute will contests, including petitions for revocation, interpretation and validity. These disputes result from fraud, lack of testamentary capacity, or undue influence.
  • One of the easiest ways for a claimant to try to have a will rejected by the probate court is to prove that the formal requirements of making the document were not met. California requires two adult witnesses to observe the testator (person making the will) sign the will and to sign it themselves while understanding the nature of the will.

    Challenges to the will may be brought if:

    • The testator did not sign the will.
    • There were problems with witnesses – there were not two witnesses, or either was not present at signing or failed to sign the will.
    • Either or both witnesses were not aware that the document was the testator’s will.
    • One or both of the witnesses were not age 18 or older.

    Having unequal estate shares between siblings also leads to disputes, especially when the inequality is the result of undue influence by one sibling against others. Exclusion from a will or trust is also a typical catalyst for a dispute. Some will contests simply focus on the interpretation of testamentary documents.

  • Trust Contests. Estate lawyers at Hackard Law prosecute and defend trust contests, including petitions to determine and enforce the rights and obligations of beneficiaries and trustees. Trust contests, like will contests, often involve testamentary capacity and undue influence issues. Petitions for accounting and resignation, replacement and removal of trustees are part and parcel of trust contests.
  • Trustees or Executors may find themselves in court on behalf of an estate to …

    • Bring a lawsuit due to wrongdoing or negligence on the part of another party
    • Respond to legal claims against the estate brought by other parties.
  • Fiduciary Duty Litigation. Hackard Law manages issues that arise from conflicts of interest, self-dealing, beneficiary bias and actions cloaked in secrecy. Fiduciary litigation may also include investment malpractice actions.
  • Discovery and Recovery of Hidden Assets. Disputed estate matters often include secret or open transfers of assets both before and after the death of the decedent.
  • Creditors’ Claims. Claims against the estate can be real and a necessity for legitimate recovery. Conversely some wrongdoers will make false claims on an estate, and these false claims must be defended.
  • Life Insurance, Jointly Held Assets, 401k and IRA disputes. Disputes regarding ownership of life insurance, jointly held assets, 401k and IRA assets are often offshoots from will contests and trusts contests. Life insurance, jointly held assets, 401k and IRA disputes are often subject to a different set of rules than will contests and trusts contests. Here again experience of our estate attorneys counts.
  • Power of Attorney Issues. Estates can often be looted by the wrongful use of powers of attorney prior to the decedent’s death. These cases present particular problems of discovery. Our experienced Sacramento estate attorneys know these are problems that are not impossible to resolve – but they are still serious.
  • Fraudulent Transfer. Hackard Law regularly prosecutes fraudulent transfer cases. There are often instances where a caregiver, relative or some other individual has perpetrated undue influence and taken property. In these cases, our estate lawyers may pursue the person who took the property as well as those who received it from the wrongdoer.
  • Real Estate Partition Actions. The heirs of an estate may inherit real property that may be owned with other individual(s). If one or more of the owners desire to sell while some don’t, there may be the need to initiate a court order sale of the asset. California law has particular rules that apply when there is a Partition action between the holder of a life estate and the owners of the remainder interest.

Litigation over any of these issues can make a huge difference in how an estate is ultimately distributed. It only makes sense to hire a California estate litigation attorney who has the experience, skill and compassion to fight for your rights and justice. Call the estate lawyers at the Hackard Law Firm today at 916-313-3030 to get started.

Answers to Common Questions from a California Estate Attorney

At Hackard Law, our California estate attorneys are here to answer questions you might have. The following are among the most common questions and concerns we hear from our clients:

How Long Do Contested Estates Usually Last in California?

Timeframes to settle a litigated case vary, depending on the issues and complexity of the case. Based on our litigation experience, contested estates usually last from six months to two years. There is generally a lot to lose in contested estates, and the desire to fight may wane with expense and time. Timing also depends on:

    • The individual issues involved
    • Asset size and type
    • Number of parties involved
    • What is found during discovery
    • Whether mediation is useful. Many disputes can be resolved during mediation.
    • Whether the case goes to trial. Parties often say that they want to go through a trial, but most contested estate cases in California settle on the eve of trial or much earlier.

May California Contested Estates Be Settled Early?

Fighting smart is just as important as fighting hard. Expensive litigation can be avoided in those circumstances where the parties and their attorneys reasonably approach the issues and weigh the costs and benefits of litigating. Sometimes estate disputes are resolved quite early, and people go on with their lives. Other times a family feud lessens the chance of resolving issues early on.

Will Hackard Law Undertake Cases on a Contingency Fee Basis?

Hackard Law often undertakes estate dispute cases on a contingency fee basis, which means you pay nothing upfront and fees are taken out of a settlement we win for you. Contact us for options regarding contingency fees and other alternative fee arrangements. In many cases Hackard Law’s willingness to prosecute or defend a case on a contingency fee basis provides an heir or beneficiary “a fighting chance in trust and estate litigation.”

Contesting a Will — In Terrorem Provisions That Violate Public Policy

An early question from a prospective client is whether they will be disinherited by engaging in a will or trust dispute. Both wills and trusts often include “In Terrorem” clauses.

What is an In Terrorem Clause?

These provide that where a beneficiary under a testamentary instrument unsuccessfully challenges the document’s validity, the beneficiary will forfeit any interests and benefits they would have obtained under the will or trust.

Testators include In Terrorem clauses in their wills and trusts in order to stop estate beneficiaries from taking action that doesn’t match the testators’ expressed wishes. In California, In Terrorem clauses are narrowly construed, and certain In Terrorem provisions actually violate public policy. As a result, the California Legislature enacted important changes to the Probate Code, removing most of the “terror” from In Terrorem. Basically, if the contestant had probable cause to contest the will or trust, the no-contest clause is ineffective.

California Probate Code Section 21311(b) states that “probable cause exists if, at the time of filing a contest, the facts known to the contestant would cause a reasonable person to believe that there is a reasonable likelihood that the requested relief will be granted after an opportunity for further investigation or discovery.”

California estate attorneys at Hackard Law take the time and effort to discuss our clients’ concerns as to the existence of probable cause. What we have seen in the development of the law is that as long as the challenge is not invalid on its face or frivolous from the view of a reasonable person, the In Terrorem clause will not be enforced against the contestant.

The bottom line is, if you have a legitimate reason to question or contest the will, do not be afraid to do so. Our California estate litigation attorneys will examine your situation and let you know what the likelihood is that your claim will be successful.

Contact Our Estate Litigation Attorneys for Help with All Estate Issues

California has many procedural rules and requirements for estate litigation, so anyone challenging or being challenged should have legal guidance. No matter how complex your situation, whether you are an executor or a concerned beneficiary, the estate litigation attorneys at Hackard Law Firm are prepared to take the burden off you and handle all legal issues involved with negotiations, mediation, and taking your case to trial if necessary.

Call us today for your free case evaluation at 916-313-3030.

Call: 916-313-3030