Protecting a Person’s Wishes in the Administration of an Estate
Because of this, family members, friends, and other potential beneficiaries must hold the estate administrator accountable for honoring the wishes of the person who made the will (the “testator”). Such people also must challenge a will that a testator made as the result of fraud, duress, or coercion, and that does not reflect the testator’s true wishes. An experienced Los Angeles probate attorney can help you determine whether you have grounds to challenge the validity of a will or the administration of an estate.
When Can I Challenge a Will?
You can challenge the validity of a will in many circumstances. Sadly, financial elder abuse is becoming a major problem in the administration of California estates. Financial abuse typically occurs when a person in a position of power (such as a younger family member, caregiver, or nursing home staff) convinces an older, vulnerable adult to make financial transactions. This can constitute simply giving cash or writing checks to the caregiver. It can also prove more complex, such as changing a will to benefit the caregiver or allowing the caregiver the power of attorney over the vulnerable adult.
California law prohibits all of these actions. They are also grounds to challenge the validity of a will (or the validity of specific provisions that benefit the person who took advantage of the testator).
Sometimes, such manipulation is not the result of systemic abuse of a vulnerable adult. Fraud can also produce changes to a will. If, for example, a person claimed to be a distant relative of the testator and received in inheritance as a result, someone with proof that no relationship to the testator existed could challenge the will.
Coercion may also result in invalid provisions to a will and is especially likely to take place when the testator is in a particularly vulnerable situation (such as receiving urgent medical care in a hospital). Undue influence might also invalidate a will. Caregivers, roommates, close family members, and others can occupy positions where they can exert influence over the testator. If undue influence results in changes to a will, surviving relatives can challenge the changes during the administration of the estate.
In certain circumstances, California law may still entitle a spouse or children to a share of the estate, even if the will did not provide for them. This is known as an “elective share.” The California Probate Code creates an elective share to protect spouses and children from unintentional disinheritance. To prevent this default provision of law from taking effect, the testator must specifically disinherit the spouse or children in the will. Absent such provisions, a spouse or child who did not receive an inheritance under the will can challenge the probate proceedings to claim the elective share that California statutes provide.
An Attorney Can Protect the Wishes of Your Loved One
Challenging the validity of a will or administration of an estate is more than just a matter of asserting your own rights. It also protects the wishes of the testator. When wills are submitted to probate and estates are administered, testators no longer have the ability to protect their rights or make their wishes known. It is, therefore, the responsibility of surviving friends and family members to identify any fraud, duress, coercion, undue influence, or financial abuse that affected the terms of a will or other estate planning documents. When survivors do not launch legal challenges to such actions, they go unpunished, and the person who procured the changes will benefit.
Protect your loved one’s wishes throughout the entire process of administering the estate. An estate administrator can execute even a valid will in a way that does not meet its goals. The administrator may ignore certain assets or liabilities, or neglect some responsibilities. In particularly egregious, but not uncommon, cases, an administrator may commit fraud or other acts to benefit financially from the estate. The survivors must identify all of the actions to hold unscrupulous or negligent estate administrators responsible, and honor the testator’s wishes.
If you believe that your loved one executed an invalid will, or that a will is improperly administered, consult an experienced Los Angeles probate attorney as soon as possible. An attorney can help you determine if you have a challenge and the likelihood of successfully bringing that challenge to the probate court. An attorney can also help you consider different options for challenging a will or the administration of an estate to determine which option will best meet your goals.
Protect Your Legal Rights During the Trust Administration Process
Challenging an invalid will not only protects the rights of family members and friends—it also helps carry out the wishes of the person who executed the will. For these reasons, it is important to challenge an improperly executed will. An experienced estate attorney can help you determine whether you have a valid legal challenge to a will, trust, estate, or any other procedure in the probate court. Call (213) 357-5200 today to schedule your free consultation with one of the Los Angeles estate attorneys at Hackard Law.