A Will Is the Foundation of Your Estate Plan
As one of the most vital documents in an estate plan, a will makes clear your wishes for distribution of your assets after you’re gone. However, when the language of a will or the process of creating one leaves openings for will disputes and legal challenges, you may need the help of a will contest lawyer.
The estate planning lawyers at Hackard Law, A Professional Law Corporation in Sacramento, can help you come up with a comprehensive estate plan that protects your loved ones and ensures that your assets are distributed according to your wishes. If wills are contested or disputed, we will be there to handle the situation.
Having a will is an essential part of planning your estate, and not having one can lead to problems for your loved ones after you are gone. Estate litigation issues can slow down the distribution of assets and create conflict among family members that may persist for years.
Your will not only spells out your final wishes, it determines what should be done with your assets. A properly written will can lessen the chances of having it contested. A well drafted will can also help prevent litigation over disputes that may arise among family members who do not agree with how assets are distributed.
Despite the importance of having a will, statistics show that an astonishingly high percentage of Americans have not drafted a will. In fact, a 2017 report found that 42 percent of U.S. residents in the baby boomer generation (53 to 71) lack estate planning documents. Overall, 60% of American adults don’t have a will.
Our attorneys not only help with estate planning, when there are disputes our will contest lawyers in Sacramento have the experience needed to best represent your interests. We offer a free, no-obligation consultation to discuss your individual needs, so call us today at 916-313-3030.
What Is Required in Your Will?
A will is a legal document that states how your property is to be distributed after your death. The person making the will is the testator, and those receiving assets under a will are known as devisees or beneficiaries. A will lets you choose the estate’s executor, the person responsible for carrying out your wishes as stated in the will. You can also appoint a personal guardian to care for your minor children.
After death, the will goes through the probate process to make sure debts are taken care of and assets are distributed according to the will. California Probate Code § 6110 and continuing sections list specific requirements for wills, and if you do not follow them, your will may be invalidated. A formal will must:
- Be in writing;
- Be signed by or on behalf of you in your presence;
- Be witnessed by at least two other people. They must be present at signing or when you acknowledge your signature; and
- The witnesses must understand that this is your will and sign it while you are alive.
There are also informal wills, such as wills from the internet, or holographic wills that are handwritten; these must be signed and legible. However, these could cause problems for beneficiaries upon your death if not prepared in accordance with California law. Our Hackard estate planning attorneys will help ensure that your will complies with legal requirements.
Our Will Contest Lawyers Deal with Will Disputes and Other Challenges
Despite your best efforts, there are times the validity of a will may be challenged by one or more people. By contesting your will, this party may seek to:
- Invalidate the will or a portion of the will;
- Seek clarification of unclear language; or
- Challenge distributions.
When You May Need a Will Contest Attorney
There are several grounds under which a will can be contested in a California probate proceeding. These include:
- Proper execution requirements were not met. The will may not have been signed or witnessed properly.
- Lack of capacity. For the will to be valid when made, you must be mentally competent and be able to understand the nature of the will, your property, and your relationships with your beneficiaries. You must not be suffering from a mental health disorder.
- Undue influence, fraud, or duress. You must not have been excessively persuaded or influenced by another party so that your will no longer reflects your own.
- Mistake. Wills that contain mistakes in your intent may be invalid.
- Revocation. A will can be revoked two ways in California – (1) if there has been a later will or (2) if the will is burned, torn, canceled, obliterated, or destroyed by the testator or by another person at the testator’s direction.
To prevent your will from being contested, our will contest lawyers can make sure it is drafted properly. We can also help you challenge another party’s invalid will if necessary and appropriate.
Consult the estate litigation lawyers at Hackard Law today at 916-313-3030 to make sure your wishes will be carried out.
Our Will Dispute Lawyers Defend Your Interests
It is not difficult to contest a will in California, but winning the case is difficult, so you should have a will dispute lawyer fight for your interests. The courts presume the will is valid, and there is a burden on the challenger to prove it is not. Before contesting the will, you should:
1. Determine on what grounds you will be challenging the will. Do you suspect undue influence or coercion, or was the will not prepared properly? Are there problems with the signatures? Are there witnesses who can help prove fraud?
2. Consider why you were excluded from the will. Were you close with the deceased and then suddenly disinherited when a new caretaker took control, or were you not really that close at all?
Proving situations such as fraud, undue influence, or coercion can be difficult, so talk this over carefully with our will dispute lawyers and lay out a plan of action.
What Happens When You Don’t Have a Will?
If you die without a will, you are called intestate. California intestacy laws then determine how your property will be distributed. Your property will go to your closest relatives in this order: to a spouse or domestic partner, then to children, parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and then to a spouse’s surviving relatives. If there are no living relatives, your property will go to the state.
If this is not the way you want your estate distributed, make sure you have a valid will.
Assets Not Affected by a Will
There are exceptions to assets that can be distributed according to a will. You may only leave your heirs assets that are in your name at the time of your death. For example, if property such as a home or bank account is owned jointly or is considered to be community property with right of survivorship, you cannot leave it in your will.
There are other types of assets that are not affected by a will, which means they are not subject to will contests. These include:
- Living trusts: If you have established a living trust, assets that are part of the trust are distributed according to the terms of the trust.
- Life insurance proceeds: Whomever you designated as beneficiary of the policy will get the money from your life insurance.
- Retirement plans: These plans also have a designated beneficiary who will receive these assets.
- Payable-on-death accounts: Bank accounts and some securities and brokerage accounts have designated beneficiaries who will receive the assets upon the death of the account holder.
Changing Your Will and Avoiding Will Disputes
Life situations change over the years, and California allows you to change your will whenever you desire. It makes sense to periodically review its terms with your estate planning lawyer to make sure that your will reflects your current wishes.
You can change your will by codicil, an amendment to the will that must follow the same procedures as the original will. You may not make changes by crossing out or adding words, sentences, or corrections, or California will not consider it valid. If you want to make major changes, you should revoke the will and make a new one. To be sure you avoid a disputed will, consult with our estate lawyers to prevent a will contest on behalf of one or more heirs.
Call Our Contested Will Attorneys in California for Help
Proper estate planning provides the same peace of mind and sense of accomplishment that comes with putting the right financial plan in place. At Hackard Law, we view wills as the foundation of a comprehensive estate plan that protects your loved ones and ensures that your assets are distributed according to your wishes when you die. We provide a client-focused approach that allows us to tailor an estate plan to the unique needs of each individual. If there are people in your life whom you love, then you need a will.
We will also help you create a durable power of attorney and advance health care directives so someone can make decisions on your behalf in case you become incapacitated. We can also explore whether you would benefit from trusts, which can help your estate avoid probate, minimize taxes, provide accountability and accomplish many other objectives.
Serving Northern California, our will contest attorneys work to ensure that your will is drafted properly to avoid contests and disputes and help you if you need to contest another party’s will.
We offer a free consultation so we can review your situation and recommend the best course of action. Call a will contest lawyer at Hackard Law today at 916-313-3030.