Probate litigation can arise due to any number of issues that can occur during the probate process. These matters are often complex, emotional, and time-consuming — and it’s crucial to have a skillful probate litigation attorney by your side in the event it is necessary to resolve a conflict in the courtroom. Critically, probate litigation is a separate practice area from trusts and estates law, and not every attorney who drafts wills or trusts litigates. It’s important to ask several key questions before hiring a probate litigation attorney, including the following:
Before hiring an attorney for your probate matter, you should find out how much of their practice area consists of probate litigation — and how much experience they have in a courtroom setting. Some attorneys in this legal field focus exclusively on helping clients with drafting estate planning documents, while others are trial attorneys who concentrate solely on litigation. Additionally, attorneys who are general practitioners might handle a myriad of legal issues, and probate matters merely represent a small percentage of their practice. Be sure to hire an attorney who is well qualified to handle your specific case.
There’s a difference between the tasks performed by a trusts and estates attorney and those carried out by a probate litigation attorney. While a trusts and estates attorney can assist clients with creating their estate plans, drafting documents, and ensuring their future wishes are carried out, a probate litigation attorney handles disputes that arise during the probate process. Although some attorneys offer a wide range of legal services, it’s critical to know what type of attorney and services you’re seeking.
When you meet with the probate attorney for your initial consultation, ask them what the probate litigation process involves. Every case is unique, but all follow the same general structure — your attorney can provide you with an overview of what to expect. Probate litigation is very different from the uncontested probate process. Specifically, it involves a lawsuit filed by a beneficiary or other party with legal standing to challenge a will or some aspect of the administration of the estate.
As with any other civil action, probate litigation starts with pleadings and then proceeds through the discovery phase. Throughout the litigation process, motions can be filed by either party asking the court to rule on certain matters. The dispute can be resolved at any time before trial. If a settlement is not agreed upon, the case will be heard and determined by a judge.
Chances are if you’re meeting with a probate litigation attorney, it’s because a dispute has already occurred. However, there are many different types of issues that can arise during the probate process that give rise to litigation. For instance, if you have concerns regarding the validity of your loved one’s last will and testament or think you were wrongfully disinherited, you may have cause to dispute the probate process. You might also consider hiring a probate litigation attorney if the executor of the estate breached their fiduciary duties or misappropriated funds. A probate litigation attorney can advise you regarding the best course of action based on the specific facts and circumstances of your case.
Not every probate dispute needs to be resolved in the courtroom. By hiring a probate litigation attorney, you will have an advocate on your side who places an emphasis on preserving valued family relationships — and reducing conflict whenever possible. Alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation and arbitration can help to keep family ties intact. Since probate conflicts are often about more than just legal issues and can involve complex family dynamics, these methods allow the parties to have the opportunity to work together to reach a settlement.
Probate matters can be overwhelming — and they can be even more stressful when conflicts arise. If you are facing a dispute during the probate process, it’s essential to have a knowledgeable probate litigation attorney by your side who can advocate on your behalf and fight for the best possible results in your case. The California probate litigation attorneys at White and Bright, LLP have decades of experience working with individuals and their families to help ensure a fair outcome. Contact us or call (760) 747-3200 to schedule a consultation.