A Sacramento Probate Attorney Can Help

An experienced Sacramento probate attorney can help at one of the most difficult times in a family’s life. When a loved one passes away, a family is not only grieving but it is also dealing with many legal and financial issues. This can feel like a heavy burden. Matters are made worse when there is no estate plan and the deceased person’s assets must go through probate.

“Probate” has two purposes:

  1. It is the process of proving a last will and testament, if a will exists. This means verifying that the will is legal, clearly articulates the deceased person’s intentions, and is being carried out properly.
  2. Probate also occurs when there is no will and a probate court must decide how to distribute the deceased person’s assets in a manner that is consistent with the person’s intentions. Without a will, this can be hard to discern and is often disputed.

Hackard Law’s Probate, Trust and Estate Litigation Practice group is a team of attorneys recognized for their experience and success as litigators in resolving disputes over probate and estates in California. We represent people, and we always express compassion and remember that human beings are involved, often at a very difficult time in their lives. In probate, people often are stressed by the loss of a loved one and the pain of a family in dispute.

A Sacramento probate attorney at Hackard Law has handled many will contests in which family members disagree over how a will is interpreted or how it is being carried out. While not pleasant, sometimes one member will hide assets, bully or otherwise deceive other members of the family, and these disputes need to be litigated in court. If you find yourself in such a situation, the first step to setting things right is to talk to a Sacramento probate attorney. To find out more about your legal options, call Hackard Law at (916) 313-3030 from Santa Clara or (213) 357-5200 from Los Angeles. Our initial consultation is free.

How Do I Choose the Right Probate Attorney?

There are several attorneys to choose from in California, so you want to make sure you choose the right Sacramento probate attorney. First, read attorneys’ bios and find out more about their skill and experience. Do they have a winning track record on behalf of their clients? At Hackard Law, we are proud of our successes in helping our clients win probate disputes. We never forget that human beings are involved, and often they are people that love each other. They are simply going through a very difficult time where stress is high and tensions arise. We argue aggressively on behalf of our clients and, at the same time, look for ways to avoid damaging future family relationships. This takes many years of experience and more than a little compassion.

Many law firms involved in California probate 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 and estate law. You need a battle-ready litigation attorney who knows the ins and outs of complex probate cases, one who gives you a “fighting chance.”

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 unique procedures applicable to probate contests in California’s major urban areas. For that reason, a Sacramento probate attorney often represents individual fiduciaries and beneficiaries in large and significant disputes. Whether the probate dispute is large or small, our clients deserve the same degree of respect and commitment to excellence.

Michael Hackard has represented high-net-worth families, individuals and businesses in California probate and estate law for more than four decades of practice, earning Super Lawyer status, Martindale-Hubbell’s AV-Preeminent rating, and other awards through years of fighting for his clients. Our many accomplishments are due in part to the leadership and credibility we bring with us to court pleadings and court practice. Our Sacramento probate attorneys are successful because our team is committed to excellence, and we show respect for our clients and their needs.

Thanks to our success in court, a Sacramento probate attorney at Hackard Law has the credibility to obtain the most favorable dispute settlements for our clients in mediation or even before litigation ensues. We also counsel our clients about probate litigation avoidance, and we can provide sophisticated advice that comes only from years of experience in probate law in California’s Superior Court venues. Let us fight for you – we know the battlefield, and we’re ready to engage. To talk to a Sacramento probate attorney, call us at (916) 313-3030 from Santa Clara or (213) 357-5200 from Los Angeles.

What Is the Process After I Hire a Sacramento Probate Lawyer?

We’ve had clients ask us whether they “have a fighting chance” to prevail in their probate dispute. Our job is to give our clients a fighting chance. A Sacramento probate lawyer does this in a variety of ways.

When someone dies, there can be several end-of-life documents involved: an estate plan, trusts, a will and life insurance, among other policies and documents. At Hackard Law, we can litigate any or all of these. We also represent abused beneficiaries and litigate elder financial abuse. Our attorneys stand ready and willing to litigate whenever there are problems in any area of estate law.

Where probate is concerned, here are some of the steps a Sacramento probate lawyer will follow after you hire him or her:

  1. Meet with you in person to ask and answer questions about the probate issues that are in dispute.
  2. Closely review the deceased person’s will, if one exists, and gather any letters, emails and communications that convey the deceased person’s wishes about distribution of their assets.
  3. If there is no will, gathering written and verbal evidence of the deceased person’s wishes about their assets becomes even more important.
  4. Review relevant legal statutes and judicial decisions that support an argument in your favor.
  5. Build a legal argument on your behalf that challenges a will or argues against the way assets are being handled.
  6. Advise you on ways to avoid litigation and find a settlement that achieves your goals.
  7. Explain your legal options so that you can make informed choices.
  8. Argue aggressively in court if you decide to pursue litigation. Our Sacramento probate attorney always focuses on success.

No matter what the problems are that you face during probate, our Sacramento probate attorney will fight hard on your behalf to achieve an outcome that is favorable. To find out more about how we can help you, call us at (916) 313-3030 from Santa Clara or (213) 357-5200 from Los Angeles. We offer a free initial consultation.

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What Are Some of the Common Areas of Contention a Probate Attorney in Sacramento Might Face?

The administration of an estate can lead to many different types of disputes. Heirs may contend with one another over the disposition of property and funds. They may also find themselves at odds with an estate administrator over the same issues. Following are some of the most common areas of contention a Sacramento probate attorney can deal with:

  • Second marriages and subsequent families. Because first, second, and subsequent marriages create families whose only relation to one another is the person who died, these groups of people are especially likely to disagree over the disposition of a will. These disputes can cover everything from selling real estate to omitting stepchildren as heirs and the handling of the decedent’s remains.
  • Subsequent revisions to wills. The person who makes the will (the “testator”) can amend or revoke it until the time the testator dies. These later documents can lead to questions about the order in which the changes occurred. If, for example, a will has multiple codicils (or amendments) with conflicting provisions, the one made last will generally control the estate. This can also raise questions about the circumstances in which a codicil was made, or when and how a will was revoked. If the change was not done under the testator or grantor’s own free will, beneficiaries could challenge it in court.
  • Duress, coercion, and undue influence. These defenses refer to situations in which the actions of a third party overcome a person’s decision-making ability. When these actions cause a person to change the disposition of property (such as in a will), the potential beneficiaries can challenge the validity of the document in the probate court. Particularly when only one family member has served as a caregiver, other family members may question the influence exerted by the caregiver over the person who made a will.

These are just a few of the many issues that can become sticking points during probate. Tempers can flare and there are often hurt feelings when wills and their execution are called into question. A skilled Sacramento probate attorney can not only argue in your favor, but he can also shield you from some of the unpleasantness of family arguments. At Hackard Law, our job is not only to win your case but also to help preserve your dignity in these family disputes. To find out more about how a Sacramento probate attorney can help, call us at (916) 313-3030 from Santa Clara or (213) 357-5200 from Los Angeles.

The Time and Expense of Litigating Probate Claims

All of these scenarios present important legal issues that can damage the property rights of an heir or beneficiary. More importantly, they also raise the possibility that a third party is not honoring the wishes of the person who initially formed the will. Heirs, therefore, must hold third parties accountable for meeting their legal and ethical obligations.

Unfortunately, this process can consume a lot of time and money. The formal litigation process begins with a petition to the probate court. The parties must then engage in a discovery process to examine the evidence that supports each side’s claims. This often consists of presenting the estate planning documents, the testimony of the witnesses to these documents, and occasionally photographic or videographic evidence of the decedent’s mental state at the time a will was made. After completing the discovery process, the parties will attempt to negotiate a settlement. If they cannot, they will incur the time and expense of a trial. The court will then decide the issue for them. This is why having a skilled Sacramento probate attorney is so important. You want an attorney who is highly experienced and can argue aggressively on your behalf to achieve a favorable outcome.

In Terrorem Provisions That Violate Public Policy

A typical early question from a prospective client is whether they will be disinherited by engaging in a Will dispute. Wills often include In Terrorem clauses providing that, where a beneficiary under a testamentary instrument unsuccessfully challenges the instrument’s validity, the beneficiary will forfeit any interests obtained under the instrument. Testators include In Terrorem clauses in their Wills in order to stop estate beneficiaries from taking action that doesn’t match the testators’ wishes, as expressed in their testamentary instruments. In California, In Terrorem clauses are narrowly construed, and certain In Terrorem provisions are violative of public policy. Moreover, 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, 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.”

Hackard Law takes the time and effort to discuss our clients’ concerns about 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.

With this in mind, we note that the often-litigated claims we manage include:

  • Financial Abuse of the Elderly. Hackard Law frequently prosecutes wrongdoers who have taken or hidden the assets of elderly persons and their estates. Fraud on the elderly is easily overlooked by inaction or inattention. We value the opportunity to do justice for the aggrieved elderly and their families.
  • 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. 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. The existence of 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 is also a typical catalyst for a dispute. Some Will Contests simply focus on the interpretation of testamentary documents.
  • 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 – false claims that 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. Life insurance, jointly held assets, 401k and IRA disputes are often subject to a different set of rules than will contests. Here again, experience 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 — problems that are not impossible to resolve, but 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, we may pursue whoever took the property directly as well as the person(s) who received it from the wrongdoer.
  • Real Estate Partition Actions. The heirs of an estate may inherit real property that may be owned with others. If one or more of the owners desires 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.

Contact a Sacramento Probate Attorney Today

As you can see, there are multiple legal issues and complications that can arise as part of the probate process. A Sacramento probate attorney at Hackard Law has the experience and skill you need to make sure your voice is heard and your interests are represented. There can be a lot of stress, and emotions run high after the death of a family member, especially when a Will and other estate planning documents are disputed. A Sacramento probate attorney at Hackard Law will walk beside you every step of the way in the probate process. Just as you do, we want it to go smoothly, and we will work hard to make sure that happens. Rather than trying to work through these issues by yourself with other family members — some of whom may be involved in fraud or ill will – let a Sacramento probate attorney act on your behalf. Give yourself time to grieve your loved one, and leave the legal heavy lifting to us. Call our compassionate Sacramento probate lawyers for help at (916) 313-3030 from Santa Clara or (213) 357-5200 from Los Angeles. We are here for you.

Call: 916-313-3030