Losing a loved one can be one of life’s most difficult challenges as it brings not only a wave of emotions and transitions that impact your day to day life, but also a realm of legal implications that can be challenging to navigate in the midst of emotional turmoil. If you’ve been named as the executor or representative of a loved one’s estate that was left behind in disarray, the best thing you can do is prepare yourself for the potential issues that may arise during the legal process of probate. Below are 9 possible issues you might face:
- Will Contests
- Creditor Claims
- Intestate Succession
- Estate Valuation
- Missing or Unknown Heirs
- Tax Issues
- Property Ownership Issues
- Non-Probate Assets
- Executor Issues
When someone passes it away, it can unfortunately bring out the worst in people. Instead of grieving properly, relatives can get caught up in the distribution aspect of it all. It’s possible that you’ll have a family member either a close or distant relative, that isn’t happy with the way the estate has or has not been distributed. Therefore, they might contest the will if they have the legal standing to do so and are an interested party. Interested parties include someone who would’ve been named an heir under state intestate laws in the absence of a will, someone who was named in a will prior or following the one in question, or a beneficiary of the current will. Grounds for contesting the will are based on whether the creator of the estate plan was of sound mind, whether they were legally manipulated, and whether or not the will conforms to state laws.
When probate begins, creditors have the right to make a claim against the estate if they’re owed money. As the executor, you’re responsible for notifying creditors of a decedent’s passing so that they have the opportunity to make a claim. In California, they have one year to make a claim. You’ll be responsible for paying off any unpaid credit card debts, medical bills, business debts, utilities, household expenses, and more. If a claim escalates to a dispute, you may go to court if you feel that any of the claims being made are invalid.
It can be stressful to manage owed debts and creditor claims in the midst of everything else the probate process entails. That’s why it’s helpful to work with an experienced probate attorney who can help you navigate the process.
If your loved one passed away without an established will, the state of California will distribute your property and assets according to the laws of the state, which is known as “intestate succession.”
Without a will, the decedent’s belongings will likely be distributed to their closest family members. Only assets that pass through the probate process are susceptible to intestate laws. Assets that don’t pass through include those that are in a living trust, life insurance proceeds with a named beneficiary, funds in a 401k or Roth IRA with a named beneficiary, and more.
Examining your loved one’s assets to determine the value can be one of the more complex challenges of the probate process, especially when it comes to unique items. Some examples of these items include real estate, rare artwork or collectibles, jewelry and other precious personal items.
Matters can become especially arduous if you have other family members who disagree with the valuations you’ve come up with, which can lead to disputes in the probate proceedings.
Determining the value of your loved one’s estate will also help you determine if and how much they owe in taxes.
Part of your responsibility as an executor is to locate and notify all beneficiaries and heirs of the decedent’s passing. This can be difficult if you have a large, extended family you don’t speak to or see often or ever. If there are unknown or missing heirs you’re unsure of how to contact, enlisting the help of a probate attorney is the best way to make sure you’re fulfilling all of your duties. If you fail to notify heirs to the estate, they may have the right to contest the will, which can make matters messy.
There is an estate tax – also known as a “death tax” – that the government can impose on the transfer of your family member’s property after their death. However, there is no state estate tax in California, but there are federal estate taxes, which are collected only if the estate is larger than $12.92 million.
If the decedent was your spouse with whom you shared joint property, another family member may try to challenge your joint ownership. For property held in a trust, beneficiaries or family members might also challenge the trust if they believe it was improperly established. Disputes over property can delay the probate case, increase costs, and put a strain on family relationships. A probate attorney can help you handle disagreements or challenges before they escalate and have to be dealt with in court.
In addition to assets that have to go through the probate process, there are also non-probate assets such as those that are in a trust or have designated beneficiaries that you’re also responsible for distributing. While this usually isn’t a complicated task, it’s one more thing on your legal to-do list.
Though it’s likely your loved one didn’t intend for their passing to be as overwhelming as it probably is, the issues discussed above are issues that are encompassed in your role as an executor. Carrying that burden on your shoulders while in the process of grieving is a lot to handle on your own. That’s why it’s crucial to contact a probate attorney who can simplify the process and ensure that you’re staying legally compliant.
How Equal Justice Law Group Can Help
If you’ve lost a family member recently, we want to first extend our condolences. We know how hard it can be to lose someone you love while simultaneously dealing with the legal complexities. Allow our probate attorneys to help you through this demanding time. Call today to request a free consultation and learn more about your options.