Court proceedings can be stressful at the best of times, but they are often unbearable for those who have just lost a close family member. Unfortunately, the passing of a loved one marks the beginning of a complex legal process called probate, leaving family members bewildered about their futures as well as broken hearted by the loss.
While probate is a necessary part of the closing of an estate, there is no reason grieving family members should be forced to go through it alone. Santa Rosa probate lawyer James A. Zakasky has helped many clients through the probate process, allowing them to focus their energy and attention on mourning the loss of their loved one. Our probate services include both administration and litigation, ensuring that your voice is heard in court and that you get the funds you need to move on with your life.
Clients whose loved ones left a last will and testament may still need protection during probate. The decedent may have named an executor who is no longer living, or may not have named an administrator at all. In these cases, your attorney can counsel you on naming a trustworthy executor, managing documents, settling accounts, and other actions that speed up the probate process.
We can help with each phase of probate administration, including:
- Asset collection. The first step in probate administration is to gather the decedent’s assets, create an inventory, and perform an appraisal to estimate the worth of the estate. The executor must be aware of all the decedent’s belongings, properties, and holdings, including those that may not be named in the will—such as bonds, partial ownerships, bank accounts, etc.
- Paying debts and taxes. There are a number of debts that must be settled using the decedent’s estate, such as estate taxes, outstanding tax debts, loans, and other costs. If your loved one’s finances do not cover the amount of debt that is owed, the executor may have to sell your loved one’s assets to make up the difference, leaving very little for the beneficiaries.
- Distribution of assets. After all of the debts are paid, the rest of the estate must be distributed to the beneficiaries in an appropriate manner. Although many people may be able to locate and notify beneficiaries, they do not often know what is required to legally transfer property and assets to their relatives.
After these actions are complete, the executor will need to provide written proof to the court declaring that all debts have been paid and all assets have been distributed in order to close the estate. No matter where you are in the process, our expertise can help that get your assets quickly.
If your loved one did not create an estate plan, you may face many additional legal battles as creditors and family members lay claim to his holdings. An heir contesting the will, a business partner misusing funds, or multiple copies of last wishes can cause lengthy delays and substantial legal complications. We are proud to represent our clients in probate or estate litigation to get them the protection and respect they deserve in family disputes, including…
- Determining whether a will is valid. Executors must be positive that the will is a legally binding document before they begin to carry out its instructions. A person may make several wills over the course of his lifetime, so you must determine which document is valid if more than one is found. If the will was not updated after a significant life change (such as marriage, divorce, or the birth of a child), the decedent’s dependents may claim the document is invalid. In addition, the will must have been properly witnessed and signed, and the decedent must have been in a sound mental state when it was composed.
- Investigating a breach of fiduciary duty. When a will is created, a trusted advocate is named as executor of the estate. This person, also known as a fiduciary, is in charge of honoring the deceased’s wishes and distributing his estate. However, some executors will abuse their positions through neglect or for personal gain. It is up to the remaining family members to file a claim for breach of fiduciary duty, which removes the executor from his position and compels him to compensate the beneficiaries.
- Contesting a will. There are generally only a handful of reasons to challenge (or contest) a will. A will may be deemed invalid if the person who created it did not have the mental or legal capacity to do so, if he was tricked or unduly influenced into structuring his estate plan the way he did, or if it is found to be a forgery. If the court declares the will invalid, the property will be distributed according to the California state law as if no will was written.
You Only Have a Limited Time to Make Your Claim
Although the probate process can drag on for months, beneficiaries only have a small window of time before the court will make a ruling on the distribution of assets. Attorney James A. Zakasky can petition the court to hear your objections, and can deliver a personalized strategy based on your individual needs.
We treat all of our clients with compassion and patience while fighting aggressively on their behalf. Contact our offices in Santa Rosa today to have us take you through probate as efficiently as possible.