Matters related to probate, estates, and trusts can be overwhelmingly complicated, and individuals with questions related to these matters often find themselves unsure of where to turn for the answers and information they need. As such, the dedicated legal professionals at Keystone Law Group, P.C., have created the following list of frequently asked questions and their answers to help individuals who find themselves in this situation.

If your question isn’t here, or if you need to speak with a lawyer about the specifics of your situation, please don’t hesitate to contact us at
(310) 444-9060 (Los Angeles) or (415) 855-2000 (San Francisco) today.

How is an executor appointed?

An executor is most typically designated in person’s will: he or she is often someone that the deceased person trusted to manage the estate fairly and efficiently. However, in cases where a will is not present, a court will likely appoint an executor for the estate.

Can you ever refuse executor responsibilities?

No one can be forced to be an executor, so you can refuse the responsibility if it is something that you do not feel you can do. However, if you have begun work as an executor and later decide you no longer want to do it, it may be much more difficult to refuse responsibility. Therefore, it’s important to think about the duties of an executor and whether or not you want to take them on prior to beginning any of the work required of this role. This way, it is easier to extract yourself from the designation.

What is a fiduciary relationship?

A fiduciary relationship is most often established between a trustee or executor and the beneficiary of a trust or an estate. Any relationship that involves a principal whose interests are a top priority can be deemed a fiduciary relationship (i.e. patients and doctors, clients and lawyers etc.). The fiduciary is in charge of managing the principal’s interest, but disputes can easily arise and lead to a situation where litigation is necessary. If you have questions regarding fiduciary relationships and litigation, discuss your situation with an experienced attorney today.

What is undue influence?

Undue influence most typically refers to an action meant to coerce a will writer into changing their will at the last minute. This often results in one or more people being excluded from a will, giving most, or all, of the estate in question to the person influencing the writer. Using undue influence to skew the terms of a will or trust is illegal, and those who think they have been victimized by coercion may be able to hold the guilty person, or people, legally accountable.

How can I settle an inheritance dispute?

Inheritance disputes are a rather common occurrence, and they can be a huge cause of stress and anxiety. Settling an inheritance dispute almost always involves legal intervention. Having an attorney evaluate the circumstances of your dispute, as well as the details of the will or trust in question, can be one way to ensure that your rights to an inheritance have not been unduly compromised.

My parents didn’t leave a will, but I think that I should get the estate, what can I do?

It sounds like you will likely be involved in estate litigation. When parents do not leave a will, it’s common for the surviving family members to engage in legal disputes over how the estate is divided. Estate litigation, where a court supervises and rules over the terms of property and asset allocation, can help settle these differences between siblings and various family members. In such a case, it’s important to have a qualified attorney at your side.

How much will my case cost me?

It depends on numerous factors. The best way to estimate your overall costs is to have a candid and open conversation with your attorney as early as possible. This conversation can establish any set fees or rates for legal services, as well as anticipate possible changes that might add financial commitment. In fact, one of the first questions we recommend that people ask a prospective lawyers is what their fees are, and if their fees are affected by a case’s outcome. Each individual case is different, so your costs will likely vary from someone else’s.

When is a will invalid?

A will can be deemed invalid for numerous reasons. Some of the most common reasons include the writer being mentally ill when deciding on the terms of the will, the writer being coerced into writing a fraudulent will, the will being inaccurate or inauthentic in some way. Additionally the validity of a will can be called into question when the terms of the will are not executed properly. If you suspect that you have been affected by any of these examples, then you may be able to question the validity of a will with the help of an experienced attorney.

What questions should I ask before hiring an attorney?

There are numerous reasons to hire an attorney when you have an issue regarding probate law. Some questions to consider asking a prospective attorney include:

  • Have you argued and won cases similar to mine in the past?
  • How much do you charge?
  • Do your fees vary?
  • Will I be able to get in touch with you during the case?
  • Can you help with an appeal if I need or want one?

These questions can give you a good sense of the way a particular attorney conducts their practice. Additionally asking similar questions can help you find the legal representation that best suits your needs.

How can an executor act in bad faith?

An executor is the person who is charged with carrying out the terms of a will. An executor is responsible for making the will writer’s final wishes known regarding their property and assets. This person has an important responsibility, and can render a will invalid if they act irresponsibly. An executor may have acted in bad faith if he or she, fails to accurately represent a will’s final testament, lies about what’s contained in the will, forges a different will, or acts in some other way that does not represent the writer’s actual wishes. You are allowed to question the validity of a will if you suspect the executor of acting in bad faith.

Why hire an estate litigation lawyer?

Disputes frequently arise concerning the administration of an estate or the validity of a will, and in these situations, the rights and interests of those involved are often at risk. When disputes arise during the probate or estate administration process, it is essential to have the representation of an estate litigation lawyer in order to ensure that your rights and needs are fully accounted for. With legal representation, those involved in estate litigation can be sure that they and their loved ones will not be unfairly treated and that their dispute will be resolved as quickly as possible.

What is the difference between a conservatorship and a guardianship?

Both conservatorships and guardianships entail a legal relationship between an individual who is not fully able to care for themselves and an appointed caretaker. A conservatorship is established to provide care for an individual who suffers from a serious physical or mental disability, whether the condition is age-related or genetic in nature. A guardianship, by contrast, is established to provide care for a minor. The rights and responsibilities that may be conferred on guardians and conservators can vary significantly depending on the nature of the situation.

What is probate?

From a strictly technical standpoint, probate is a legal document that is granted to the executor of an estate establishing the validity of a will. More generally, many people refer to the process of examining and establishing the validity of will as the probate process. Typically, this process involves appearing before a probate court, which will go through a number of different stages before deciding whether or not a will should be considered fully valid. Once probate has been granted to the executor of an estate, the will becomes legally-enforceable, granting the executor substantial authority under the law.

What is a trust?

Trusts have been an incredibly durable feature of the legal landscape across the world for centuries. Generally speaking, a trust is a legal relationship in which the property of one individual, the settlor, is held by another individual, the trustee, for the benefit of the trust’s beneficiary or beneficiaries. A trust may be established in a will, in which the deceased places his or her property in a trustee’s control until beneficiaries come of age, or while the settlor is still alive, for reasons that can range from reducing tax liability to physical or mental incapacity.

If I think my parent was coerced into dividing their estate against their will, what can I do?

It is an unfortunate reality that, in many cases, elderly individuals with substantial assets may be coerced into creating a will that does not reflect their true intentions, whether because they are not of sound mind or because they may fear for their own safety. Regardless of why they may have done so, in situations in which children believe that their parents may have been coerced into creating a will, it may be necessary to pursue estate litigation in order to ensure that the rights of those involved are protected.

When is a trust invalid?

A trust can be considered invalid for numerous reasons. For example, if it is forged, falsified, created through deception or intimidation, or later revoked at a future date then it might be invalid. There are ways to investigate a trust’s validity, with these issues often going through the litigation process to reach a decision regarding the trust and beneficiaries’ rights. If you believe a trust is invalid, speak with a lawyer from the Keystone Law Group, P.C., today.

Why do misinterpretations of wills and trusts occur?

It is unfortunate that misinterpretations of wills and trusts happen at all, but there can be any number of reasons for this situation. In some cases, the person making the will or trust was not of sound mind; in others, the wording of a will or trust is vague or unclear. More rarely, though it does occur, a misinterpretation is the result of a deceptive trustee or manager of a will, who wants to misappropriate funds for his or her own use. To get to the bottom of your own case, talk with an experienced attorney from the Keystone Law Group, P.C., in Los Angeles today.

How long will the litigation process take?

It is extremely difficult to estimate the number of months (or years) a particular trust, probate, or estate litigation case will take, largely because these are such highly individualized situations. Some aspects that contribute to a lengthy case, though, include investigation of document creation, interpretations of documents, researching medical records of the person who made the document, hearing personal testimony in court, and the ruling itself. Any number of things can make a case longer, and the best way to get an estimate on how long your case may take is to discuss your situation with an experienced attorney.

Why do people become guardians?

People become guardians for a variety of reasons, each specific to their particular circumstances. Some become guardians because parents of a minor have passed away or are otherwise unable to take care of the child. In every case, a court will decide on guardianship based on the best interests of the child in question.

How does the guardian application work?

Applying to be a minor’s guardian can have numerous benefits for the child involved. The application process is fairly straightforward, though each case will be handled with regard to its specific circumstances. You will first file a petition with the court, and after the petition is reviewed, you, the parents of the child, and (if of an appropriate age) the child involved will be interviewed. After the interview process, a hearing will occur in which a final decision is made regarding the application for guardianship.

What does a trustee have to do?

A trustee is a person appointed in a trust to handle the property of another, either while the grantor is still alive or after they pass away. The job has numerous responsibilities, including the management and record keeping of funds going in and out of the trust. Additionally, a trustee’s personal accounts must be kept wholly separate from the trust fund. Also, a trustee might have to invest or pay taxes on behalf of the trust, as well as manage the accurate dispersal of trust funds when the time comes to do so. Every trustee’s job has its own unique obligations, so as a trustee, it would be wise to consult a probate attorney in order to ensure everything is done correctly.

I’ve been named a trustee, do I have to accept the responsibility?

A trustee is often a person who a person feels he or she can rely on after passing to manage a trust fund for one or more beneficiaries. It is an important job, but you are not required to accept the responsibility just because someone wants to name you a trustee. As such, you can refuse the position. Also, it is important to know that even if you accept the position initially, you can later decide that you are not willing to continue in this position, but it is much more difficult to leave the position like this than to turn it down before you got involved in he process.

I’m scared I’m going to make a mistake as a trustee, can you help?

Absolutely. Trustees are given a number of important responsibilities, and the job can quickly feel overwhelming for many individuals. Errors are common, but you can avoid them with the help of an experienced probate and trust administration attorney. With the advice and guidance of your legal team, you will better understand your obligations as a trustee and more effortlessly navigate through your very meaningful role in trust management.

When can I expect my compensation?

It is often very difficult to ascertain exactly when an individual will receive compensation, unless a court mandates the date that receipt will take place. However, assuming you win your case, your trust or probate attorney should be able to give you an idea of when to expect payment.

I don’t think I can afford a lawsuit, should I just deal with the situation?

Many individuals believe that an attorney or a lawsuit is out of their financial reach. However, if you have been wronged in an issue with probate, estates, or trust administration, then you should be able to fight back for your legal rights. Most attorneys will be upfront about all costs, and will not charge you for certain things if your case does not work out. It is important to discuss your possible legal options with a lawyer before you completely rule out the possibility of taking your case to court.

I don’t have time to file a lawsuit, what can I do?

It is a rather common thought that one does not have “the time” to devote to a lawsuit for probate, trust, or estate issues and disputes, because people think that all of their time will be claimed by the suit. However, almost all of the work of such a case is done by your attorney and legal team, so the demands on your personal time are more limited than the common misconception. Get in touch with a Los Angeles probate lawyer before you decide not to file a lawsuit, because you may be due compensation that won’t take too much of your time to obtain.

What will be expected of me during my lawsuit?

Your level of involvement in your case will all depend on a variety of factors. You might be asked to witness, give testimony, provide documentation, among others. Beyond this, your attorney may need you to be as receptive as possible to his suggestions and to any of his forms of contact. At Keystone Law Group, P.C., our attorneys may help you navigate through the process of probate, trust, or estate litigation.

How do I know I will receive individualized attention?

At Keystone Law Group, P.C. we manage numerous clients, but we are dedicated to giving each one the personalized and individualized attention that their case needs. We won’t be providing you with cookie-cutter service, because every case involves a unique set of obstacles that must be faced with a unique course of action. We fight for the best interests of each of our clients, and personalized attention is something that must be involved in order to fulfill exactly that.

Should I just represent myself?

Sometimes people think that they will save time or money by representing their own case in court, but this is often not the case. Attorneys have the skills and experience necessary to represent your case; when people try to represent themselves and do not know the legal minutia they are facing, court costs and problems can quickly arise. You might end up actually saving time and money by hiring an attorney with extensive experience handling cases like yours.

Who can be a guardian?

A guardian is often appointed in a parent’s will. Guardians are to take care of the involved child or children in the event of the parent’s passing. A guardian can also be court appointed if no person was named in a will, or if a will does not exist. In either case, a guardian must complete the necessary application process in addition to a court investigation to make sure that he or she is willing and able to take on the role of a legal guardian.

What’s required for a conservatorship appointment?

A conservator is often appointed when an individual has been deemed unable to manage his or her own estate or finances. In the event that you are appointed as an individual’s conservator, you must handle a variety of the incapacitated individual’s affairs, such as by managing assets of their estate (if necessary), managing their property, submitting reports to courts, and other requirements that might arise depending on whether a person has a limited or general conservatorship. In any case, having responsible legal representation can be absolutely beneficial, as these matters can quickly become complicated.