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Torrance Elder Law Blog

Distributing an inheritance without causing discord

Making designations for inheritance is a process that takes time for many families in California. In fact, it is a process that experts recommend be revisited frequently to make sure that the original designations remain appropriate despite marriages, births and divorces within a family line. One of the biggest concerns for many people is the worry that their decisions will be opposed by surviving family members and ultimately leave them quibbling over their opinions about what the intentions of their deceased family member were. 

While people cannot guarantee that their surviving family will not disagree over their intentions at all, they can implement practices to hopefully minimize confusion and discord after their death. According to The New York Times Magazine, the emotions surrounding a loved one's death can wreak havoc on the emotional stability of that person's family members. These emotions can often play a role in making disputes that may be rather simple to solve, even more treacherous than if they had occurred before their family member had passed away. 

Why does probate take so long?

Most people delay making an estate plan until it is too late. Many of those who do make a plan limit it to a simple will. In some cases, even those wills use vague or confusing language that can make them practically useless during probate. While it is certainly possible to avoid probate with careful planning, most estates will go through this legal process before the heirs can receive their inheritance.

Probate includes locating and authenticating your heirs, valuating your assets and paying any lingering debt. Each of these steps can take weeks or months, even if no wrinkles occur. When those glitches do happen, your heirs may find themselves waiting indefinitely while the court resolves the issues. If one of your goals is a speedy probate for your heirs, you may find it helpful to understand some of the common causes of probate delays.

Contention erupts between late singer's widow and daughters

Many in Los Angeles may view an estate as simply being those assets that one will pass on to their heirs when they die. While that may be the case in many situations, there are also many scenarios where an estate is intended to be a vehicle for generating income for beneficiaries. In cases where a decedent leaves behind intellectual and artistic works that still have value, beneficiaries can often expect royalties from the use of such properties to provide them with funds for years (if not decades). It may come as little surprise, then, that such estate cases can often become contentious. 

That is what is currently happening in the management of the estate of the late singer Tom Petty. The former Heartbreakers front man left his widow in charge of his estate, yet also gave his two daughters from a previous marriage authority to have input over the decisions regarding the use of the estate's assets. That input has led to disputes between the daughters and Petty's widow (as well as members of his band). Specifically, Petty's widow cites an incident where one of the daughters rescinded her permission to use the singer's image on a sign in park dedicated to him in his hometown. She also claims that the daughters' actions have prevented her from moving forward the release of some previously unreleased material Petty left behind. 

Proving a will in California

Fantastic stories may exist about people producing wills that were written on napkins or in emails. Many in Los Angeles may be surprised to learn that it is not so much the medium on which a will is written that determines its validity, but rather whether it meets the state's standard of proof. Given that the American Association of Retired Persons reports that only roughly 40 percent of American adults actually have a will, it may be understandable that probate courts first require that a will be proven before it can be probated. 

The requirements for proving a will can found in Sections 8220-8221 of California's Probate Code. Here, it states that in the absence of a will contest, the testimony of only one witness to the will is needed to validate it. That testimony can be given in person or through a deposition if the witness does not reside in the county in which the will is being probated. In the case of a deposition, it is sufficient to produce a photocopy of the will for the witness to examine to attest to is legitimacy. 

Can I really inherit my ex-spouse’s debts?

The ex-spouses of many deceased California men and women may be shocked to know they can inherit the deceased’s debt. According to CNN Money, this may be the case even when your divorce settlement clearly says you are not responsible for debt repayment.

The reason? You made that agreement with your ex-spouse, not the creditors. As far as the creditors are concerned, anything obtained during the marriage is shared. That includes not just assets but also debts. When this happens, your only way out may very well be to pay off your ex’s debts and file a claim against his estate.

Determining jurisdiction in probate cases

The passing of your family member or friend in Los Angeles may represent the end of their lives, yet it might also signal the beginning of a long and complex process for you if you have been tasked to oversee the administration of their estates. As a personal representative or executor, you have a number of different roles to fulfill, including notifying beneficiaries, making an accounting of the estate's assets and filing estate tax returns. Yet before any of that can happen, you need to determine which probate court has jurisdiction over the estate case. Several in your position have come to us here at The Law Office of Matthew C. Yu concerned that this can be a very complex process. Fortunately, it does not have to be. 

California law has very clearly defined which of the local courts would have jurisdiction in a probate case. In the event that your loved one resided and died here in the state, then the probate court of the county in which they died would have jurisdiction. Typically, the only time confusion would arise is if your family member or friend's assets and properties where not located in the county in which they died . or if they died out of state yet still retained property here. 

How can I give to charity after my death?

If you are a charitable person who likes to give to the unfortunate or to causes you believe in, then the chances are pretty good you would like one of your final acts on this earth to be giving to charity. You do have the ability to include a donation in your estate plan in California. However, you want to plan any charitable giving carefully to avoid any issues for your heirs or in the execution of the donation.

Fidelity explains that you have the right to give to a charity in your estate plan or will. However, you should keep in mind that your estate must also pay off debts you had at death. You need to make sure that you deduct your debts from your assets so you know how much money you have left to give. You do not want to leave too much to a charity so your estate is left in the red.

What is inheritance theft?

When you create an estate plan in California, you set things up for when you die. The plan outlines your wishes and creates a legally binding guideline for your executor to follow when dispersing assets. However, there are a few ways that an estate plan could end up doing harm or causing issues. This is especially true when inheritance theft occurs.

The Hartford explains inheritance theft is any situation where someone takes from an estate. This could happen in a seemingly legal manner. For example, if someone encourages or leads you to leave them your assets instead of leaving them to your rightful heirs, this could be theft. This person is conning you just to get your estate. It could also happen through other means of deception, such as the creation of false documents.

As executor, you are entitled to compensation for closing estate

When a loved one passes away, it is most likely that his or her estate will need to go through the probate process. As someone who had a close relationship to the decedent, the person may have named you as executor of the estate. By holding this position, you will have the obligation of executing the instructions your family member left behind in his or her will and other estate planning documents.

Probate and closing an estate can take months or even years to complete. Because of the many tasks involved, you may consider acting as executor a job, and thinking of it in this manner is wise. You have to make sure that you complete the process correctly, do not breach your fiduciary duty and follow your loved one's wishes. Of course, having a job also means that you get paid.

Debt after death

People who live in California and must manage the estate of a loved one or who are making their own estate plans should have a good understanding of what exactly happens to a person's debt after they die. After a person dies, most people tend to put energy focusing on the distribution of assets to heirs. However, while most debts do not get passed down to one's children or other surviving heirs, they must be addressed.

As explained by WalletHub, all debts associated with a person's estate must be settled before the transfer of any assets. There are some exceptions like the payment of life insurance benefits. Since assets can and must be used to pay debts, this may reduce the overall value of the estate and therefore reduce how much any heirs may receive.

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