Will & Estate Law FAQ

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Figuring out how to handle a deceased loved one’s left-behind belongings can no doubt be confusing and thus frustrating. Some families have a trust or a will that needs to be properly administrated, while others may not have the necessary paperwork in place. In the same way, navigating the process of creating an estate plan that covers your own assets can be overwhelming. Fortunately, this is where an estate planning/litigation attorney can make help the whole process smoother.

So, what exactly is an estate planning lawyer, and how can an estate litigation attorney help you to confidently address will and estate law matters in California? 

Here’s an overview of common questions about wills, trusts, and estates in California and related answers for the Golden State, as well as how an attorney can help you to navigate them.

What Is an Estate Planning Lawyer?

An estate law attorney fully comprehends how federal and state laws will impact how your assets will be taxed, dispersed, valued, and inventoried after you or someone in your family passes away. Thus, an attorney can help you to create an estate plan, including a will, that will protect your assets and honor your wishes.

Wills are legal documents where people who own assets determine how their assets will be distributed once they die. In a will, you can additionally name somebody to manage the estate you leave behind to benefit your minor children. 

Wills can also be used to name guardians for minor children. In addition, you can decide which charitable organization to donate property to in your will. Wills can furthermore be used to designate executors, who will be responsible for making sure that the wills are carried out.

What Happens If a Person Dies Without a Will in California?

If a loved one passes away before creating a will in California, this person’s assets will be given to his or her heirs (for example, a surviving spouse and/or surviving children) according to the state’s intestate succession laws. If you feel that a portion of this person’s property belongs to you, it is critical that you consult an attorney who is experienced in will and estate law right away. An attorney will help you to take the necessary steps to safeguard your right to this property.

Who Becomes an Estate’s Executor After the Estate Owner Has Died? 

If a deceased loved one left behind a will and named a family member or friend as an executor of the family trust, the named individual will likely become the executor—the person responsible for the deceased person’s estate. The only situation where this won’t happen is if the executor does not want to fulfill this role or is deemed unfit to do so.

So, what happens if the deceased person dies with no will and thus no named executor for his or her estate? In this situation, a California probate court—a court that handles estate administration—will choose an individual to serve as the estate’s executor. It is possible for multiple parties to be appointed as administrators.

What Are the Duties of Executors?

An executor is responsible for estate administration, including managing a deceased person’s property to prevent any losses. This person must also pay bills related to the estate, file tax returns, prepare an asset inventory, and even locate heirs. The executor’s overall aim is to tie up the deceased person’s loose ends financially, then distribute the deceased person’s estate to his or her beneficiaries.

How Is the Probate Process Started in California?

The probate process begins with filing a probate petition in the county superior court located in the area where the deceased person lived. An attorney with experience in will and estate law typically prepares this type of petition for the individual seeking to be the estate executor/administrator. 

The probate petition offers details regarding the deceased person, his or heirs, and the executor. The document also provides information regarding the estate’s size. Once a probate examiner looks at the file and confirms that it complies with state laws, he or she will recommend that a judge approve the petition. If the examiner recommends for the petition to be denied, the petitioner may attend a hearing to explain why he or she disagrees with this decision.

Note that the majority of probate proceedings take between six months and a year to complete.

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Where Can You Find the Will Created By Someone Who Has Passed Away?

If a loved one has died and his or her estate is currently in probate, you should be able to find this person’s will at the county superior court located in the area where he or she lived. The individual’s file should include his or her will along with any other document filed in the person’s case.

Why Work with an Attorney to Navigate Family Estate Issues?

A reputable estate planning and litigation attorney has years of experience, continuing education, and mentoring in will and estate law. For this reason, it is wise to consult this type of attorney rather than attempting to create a will or tackle complicated estate and probate matters on your own.

I, attorney Michael C. MacNeil, possess strong experience in will and estate law, coupled with a strong passion for helping families to financially prepare their estate or trusts, or to deal with the financial aftermath of a loved one’s passing. With my help, you can easily create an estate plan that meets your unique needs, as well as successfully handle complex estate matters. Contact the Law Office of Michael C. MacNeil today to take advantage of a free consultation concerning will and estate law in California.