Legal battles – whether they be civil or criminal – are exhausting affairs for all parties involved. There are hundreds of unique reasons that you may find yourself as either a plaintiff or defendant in a particular situation, but none of them are enjoyable experiences.
The sheer number of legal battles, challenges and cases would overwhelm any one court system, which is why many cases are decided exclusively by specific judges. In California, one such example is probate court, which has a limited but well-defined focus in terms of which cases it handles.
Appearing in probate court may be more common than you think. Right now, we’ll look at five specific reasons why you might find yourself in front of a probate judge in California in the future.
Deciding the Outcome of an Estate
Arguably one of the most common reasons individuals and families find themselves in front of a probate judge in California, estate fights can be both exhausting and vicious.
In many cases, the division of an estate or will may be challenged. This can occur due to a number of factors, including the questioning of the mental state of the decedents at the time the will was written. Even in cases where the transfer of an estate via will or other document is seemingly iron-clad, legal challenges may be mounted for a number of reasons.
Ultimately, these fights often result in the assets being divided in the way in which they were specified by the decedent, but there are exceptions to this rule. However, if no legal instruction was left by the individual prior to death, the probate judge must make the best decision as he or she sees fit.
Perhaps the only type of legal case more common than estate battles, custody battles over the fate of minors in the state of California represent a huge percentage of probate courts’ workloads.
Due to divorce, death or one of several other life factors, the fate of who retains or obtains custody of a child is often a prolonged and potentially ugly affair. A variety of factors will be considered by the probate judge, including home life, income, personal habits and testimonials by those who know the plaintiff and defendant.
If you are planning on pursuing custody of a child in California, then locate your probate court by county to begin the first step.
Legal Fights Over Trusts
Trust litigation often resembles the fights seen over estates, but can vary in a number of ways. With a record number of trust disputes and litigation, California’s probate courts have been hit with workloads that make speedy resolutions difficult.
This is in part due to a larger number of divorces and re-marriages, in conjunction with less integrated families, and has led to a litany of legal challenges that only make these situations worse. While most trust disputes are handled outside of court, you may very well find yourself in front of a probate judge, debating over who has the right to which assets (and who doesn’t).
Generally speaking, the longer the assets have been within a family, the greater the chances are of a dispute over who will be the trustee(s) and/or who will ultimately inherit select assets.
Debates Over Mental Competency
When an individual’s mental competency is called into question, a plethora of challenges and difficulties can arise. In probate court, mental competency may be questioned as a greater part of determining who will handle an estate or trust, but also whether or not the person in question needs to be placed under a conservatorship.
Conservatorships exist to ensure that an individual’s finances or day-to-day tasks are not squandered or mishandled. These roles can be appointed by probate judges and are most commonly appointed due to old age, physical inability or mental competency.
Several celebrities have been at the forefront of these cases, with courts appointing conservators to handle their finances and daily lives until they are found to once again be competent.
Intention of Wills
Mankind has been debating the true meaning of words and intent since the concepts first came into existence. As such, it should be no surprise that people head to court all the time to debate the contents or meaning of a particular will.
In California, probate judges are tasked with assessing the meaning of wills – even when the intent seems obvious. Some reasons why wills can be disputed include the questioning of mental competency, major changes in lifestyles and/or relationships that were not reflected in an updated will, and changes in the amount of assets available at the time of the decedent’s passing.
Probate judges provide an essential set of services in California. While there are many unique situations in which a probate judge may be necessary, the five situations above are the most common reasons why probate court becomes necessary to settle disputes.