Probate, Estate Planning and Trust Law
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San Fernando Valley Probate & Estate Administration Law Blog

Explaining estate jurisdiction

Whenever someone living in or with ties to Woodland Hills passes away, those close to him or her typically begin to prepare for the process of administering his or her estate. Aside from ensuring that that a personal representative has been named to handle the matter, one of the first things to be considered is which probate court would have jurisdiction over the case.

Section 7051 of the California Probate Code says for people who were living in the state when they died, the county in which they were domiciled will have jurisdiction over their estate. Jurisdiction for those not living in the state at the time of their deaths is determined in one of two ways: if the decedent died in a county where estate property was located, jurisdiction belongs to that county. If he or she had no property in the county in which he or she died, jurisdiction is given to the county in which the estate property is located. If there is estate property in multiple counties, jurisdiction goes to the county in which a petition for administration is first filed.

Will the court enforce your no contest clause?

The ultimate goal of your estate planning efforts is likely to be so that those that you leave behind in Woodland Hills have no reason to question what your final wishes may be. It should be remembered, however, that no amount of planning on your part may be able to account for the emotions one or more of your beneficiaries may feel regarding their final interests in your estate. You may try to be proactive in stopping any potential disputes by including a no contest clause in your will. The question then becomes to what extent is such a clause enforceable?

Section 21310(c) of the California Probate Code defines a no contest clause as any provision in an estate instrument that could potentially penalize a beneficiary were he or she to initiate a pleading in court. This is meant to serve as aa deterrent to beneficiaries from challenging the outlined administration of your estate. The law states that your no contest clause can be enforced in the following situations:

  •          One of your beneficiaries initiates a will contest without having probable cause to do so
  •          Your right to transfer estate property is challenged due to an alleged lack of ownership
  •          A creditor’s claim is filed against your estate

Murder victim’s estate seeking return of his property

Many in Woodland Hills might assume that the matter of estate administration involves simply sitting down at a table, reviewing a decedent’s assets, and then divvying them out to beneficiaries. In reality, the process is much more involved. In fact, one assigned as the executor of an estate (along with any interested parties to it) might even have to go on a search for property that might rightfully belong to the estate, yet are in the possession of another. In some cases, those parties may even have to go as far as initiating legal action in order to recover such assets.

Representatives of the estate of a murdered man in Colorado are currently involved in such an effort as they attempt to reclaim property being held by one of those allegedly involved in his death. A complaint filed on behalf of the murdered man’s estate claims that two men (both business partners) had taken coins, collectibles and cash totaling $70,000 to store for the victim prior to his death. Yet after his murder, one of the partners claimed that the man already collected most of what they had taken. The man making that assertion (who also was believed to have been involved in the victim’s murder) died shortly thereafter. A subsequent search of his home revealed that he still had much of the victim’s property (those representatives from his estate claim that property belonged to him). Now, the surviving partner (who pleaded guilty to being an accessory to the victim’s murder) is being asked to return the items.

Setting up a special needs trust for the benefit of a loved one

It can be incredibly difficult to care for a loved one with special needs, and often, California families facing this unique challenge often wonder about how they can continue to provide care long into the future. There is not way to control what happens in the years ahead, but there is a way to plan for contingencies and ensure that a loved one has what he or she needs no matter what.

One of the ways that you can protect the interests of a loved one with a disability or other unique challenge is to set up a special needs trust. This small effort can be a huge asset in the future, setting aside and protecting certain funds for a person who cannot care for his or her own needs. By setting up this type of trust, you can rest easy knowing that your family member has what he or she needs, even long after you are gone.

Collecting child or spousal support from trust assets

Different areas of the law may intersect in certain cases. However, two that you might not assume to have much relevance to each other are estate planning and family law. You might be surprised to learn how often these different legal disciplines go hand-in-hand. Many who are beneficiaries to trusts often come to us here at The Law Offices of Alice A. Salvo wondering if their interests can be made available to creditors. The answer to that question in yes (in certain situations).

Typically, a settlor creates a trust in order to protect assets for beneficiaries. He or she may stipulate that assets generated from trust principle and income only be made available to beneficiaries at a certain future or date, or he or she may leave it to the trustee’s discretion of when to provide income for the benefit of a beneficiary. Some trust instruments may also endow beneficiaries with the power to compel trustees to provide them with income.

Evaluating transactions made by a trustee

A number of different responsibilities accompany the role of trustee in Woodland Hills. One who assumes this role should do his or her due diligence is researching them all in order to avoid accusations of breaching his or her fiduciary duty. Such allegations can be quite common when it comes to arranging transactions involving trust assets. Given the interest that beneficiaries hold in a trust, one might assume that they will subject every sale or claim initiated by a trustee to a great amount of scrutiny.

Among the many duties that a trustee assumes, the National Paralegal College recognizes the duty to segregate and identify trust assets. In simpler terms, this means that a trustee must keep his or her personal assets separate from those of the trust, and that a failure to do so will expose him or her to liability for any losses that may occur. This is true even if he or she is assumed to have acted in good faith.

What is a holographic will?

You may hear stories of people coming forth after a wealthy individual has died claiming to have helped the decedent and in return being promised his or her entire fortune. Often, the only evidence that such people can produce is a handwritten will. Such stories may be easy for you and others in Woodland Hills to dismiss, yet they prompt the question of whether or not a handwritten will is actually valid.

Handwritten wills are known legally as “holographic wills.” Only a handful of states recognize them, with California being one of them. The California Probate Code lists detailed instructions that are to be followed when validating a will. Section 8222 says that the same standard applies to holographic wills. All that is needed is for a witness (either you or, in the case of it being your own will, a family member or friend) confirming that the will was executed according to the law. This can be done by you submitting an affidavit with a picture copy of the holographic will, or attaching one to the original document itself.

Non-profits wait for decision on local philanthropist’s estate

It is not uncommon for Woodland Hills residents to die in debt. When one who has outstanding liabilities passes away, those obligations remain with his or her estate. Whomever is appointed to administer the estate must settle those debts out of its assets before funds can be dispersed to beneficiaries. One form of debt that many may not view as such are promised donations. While it may seem counterintuitive that a financial gift could be viewed as a debt, when one pledges a donation, he or she is essentially promising to pay money to an organization. That agreement is viewed as a contract.

It is for this reason that several non-profit groups in Indiana are watching the estate proceedings of a recently deceased local trucking magnate with great interest. Several are listed amongst the man's creditors after he died while still owing an estimated $1.7 million in pledged donations. Many others are included in a list of his potential creditors, yet have yet to step up and make a claim. However, all of the man's creditors are currently in a veritable state of limbo as his family argues over his estate. His adult children are arguing that a revised will submitted shortly before his death should be invalidated. The new agreement nearly doubles his widow's interest in his estate. It is currently being determined if the man had sufficient mental capacity to make such a decision. That determination could also potentially affect the charities seeking to get paid, as several of the agreements he entered into with them occurred during this time his capacity was being questioned.

Should your spouse act as executor of your estate?

Creating an estate plan can make your passing easier on your surviving family members. By getting your affairs in order well before your demise, you can ensure that family members know your wishes for healthcare, funeral arrangements, property distribution and other necessities. Of course, you will need an executor to your will to carry out these desires as you had hoped.

You could choose from a variety of individuals when it comes to picking the right executor for your estate. Of course, as a married person, your spouse may come to mind as your first candidate. However, you need to ensure that he or she feels up to the task.

Knowing when providers may refuse to follow advance directives

As you watch your family members and friends in Woodland Hills begin to deal with the effects of advancing age, you may quickly understand why many often sour on the idea of continued care. Oftentimes, such care can involve treatments that are painful or leave a patient feeling ill or drained of energy. Oftentimes, people may come to us here at The Law Offices of Alice A. Salvo wanting to set up advanced directives meant to limit care that could prolong their lives. Most automatically assume that any healthcare provider must comply with these wishes. Yet is that always the case?

Section 4733 of the California Probate Code states that, in most cases, clinicians must comply with any health care instructions given by your family member or friend (or you or another person granted authority to make such decisions on his or her behalf). However, the law also allows for special circumstances where a provider can refuse to follow such instructions. These include:

  •          Cases conflicting with his or her own sense of conscience
  •          Situations where a decision is contrary to facility policies that are based off reasons of conscience (such policies must first be communicated to you or your loved one)
  •          Instructions asking for ineffective medical care or care that runs contrary to generally accepted treatment standards