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What to Do if You Suspect a Forged Will

Despite the inherent tragedy of the occasion, reviewing a deceased loved one’s will is usually a routine affair. Family conflict is far from unusual, but in most cases, the division of assets between heirs won’t come as much of a shock. However, if you have reason to suspect an altered or forged will, let’s consider some next steps.

The Possibility of a Forged Will

Firstly, you must be someone who would be wronged if the will was accepted. You’ll need more than a simple disagreement over its terms to contest its legitimacy in court. So, before you consider challenging a will, you need a concrete reason to move forward with legal proceedings.

Maybe you viewed earlier versions of the will that were drastically different. Or, perhaps the final document contradicts conversations you had with your loved one about their estate plan. Another possibility is that an executor simply failed to perform his or her duties correctly, and overlooked assets.

No-Contest Clause?

It’s pretty standard for a will to include a “no-contest clause,” stating that it may not be challenged. But in actuality, such clauses can be dismissed when there’s a legitimate claim to contest.

Can You Challenge a Will After Probate was Granted?

While it’s necessary to meet various conditions before you can contest a forged will, it is still possible to challenge the document after probate is granted.

When a will is challenged following a grant of probate, it becomes the beneficiary’s responsibility to prove the document is invalid.

Forged Will Next Steps

If you suspect a will was forged, the next step is to consult with an experienced probate attorney. John F. Lewman, the Founder of Lewman Law, APC, has over twenty years of experience. He’s committed to resolving his clients’ legal issues with compassion and understanding. For more information, please contact us online or at (925) 447-1250.

Signs of Duress in Probate Litigation

A person forced to act against their will is a victim of duress. This “undue influence” is psychological or physical coercion carried out against someone too vulnerable to resist. For example, forcing someone to sign a contract by threatening their personal safety. Because this agreement didn’t occur freely, the law considers it invalid. This article reviews signs of duress in probate litigation.

Validity of the Will

As stated above, a contract is void unless signed willingly, which, of course, includes wills. But the problem is that proving there were signs of duress can be difficult, especially when people have reason to be unhappy with the legal document in question.

Methods Used for Control

Like other forms of abuse, duress is ultimately about control, and there are two main types:

Physical Duress: This may include physical attacks or intimidation, resulting in bodily harm.

Duress by Improper Threat: It’s more common for perpetrators to gain control with threats, than actual physical violence. Unfortunately, it’s also more challenging to identify.

Signs of Duress

  • Withholding medication, food, or other vital necessities
  • Taking control of the victim’s finances
  • Unexplained changes to estate plans, perhaps while the victim is hospitalized
  • Physical injuries
  • Malnourishment
  • Anxiety, depression, or confusion
  • Emotional withdrawal

Proving Signs of Duress

When a victim depends on another person for food or shelter, medication, or even access to their own finances, it’s not a stretch to imagine the abusive ways control might be exercised. For example, in the case of elder abuse. Sadly, this is a classic example of vulnerability plus an opportunity for manipulation.

California bars inheritance based on the grounds of undue influence, whether that includes financial exploitation, elder neglect, or mental and/or physical violence. But coercion can be complex to prove in court. If you suspect signs of duress, we can help. For more information, please contact our legal team to schedule an appointment. Office staff can be reached Monday through Friday (9:00 am to 5:00 pm) at (925) 447-1250.

Revocable Trusts in Estate Planning

Revocable trusts are most commonly used in estate planning to accomplish financial objectives, but there are many other types of trust and each serves a different purpose.

Trusts make it possible for the grantor (you) to specify how your estate is divided when you die. Specifically, one of the greatest benefits to a trust is that it allows beneficiaries to avoid the often drawn-out process of probate.

The following article addresses why revocable trusts are frequently preferred over other options.

Revocable and Irrevocable Trusts

There are two basic kinds of trusts— revocable and irrevocable. As you might assume, a revocable trust allows the grantor to amend or revoke the trust whenever they choose. They retain control of its assets.

However, an irrevocable trust doesn’t allow for this same room to maneuver. Once an irrevocable trust has been created, those assets no longer owned by the grantor.  

Advantages of a Revocable Trust

A revocable trust is also sometimes known as a living trust. As stated earlier, its terms can be altered. For example, a grantor remains free to remove certain beneficiaries, choose new ones, or even add stipulations determining how assets are used or managed.

Due to the built-in leeway of revocable trusts, it’s easy to see why they’re so popular. Although, there are a few disadvantages to consider.

Disadvantages of a Revocable Trust

One disadvantage to a revocable trust is that its assets aren’t protected from creditors the way they would be with an irrevocable trust. This is because the creator of a living trust retains control. For instance, if the grantor faced a lawsuit, it would be vulnerable to liquidation. Another thing to account for is that any assets held in a revocable trust are subject to estate taxes after the grantor dies.

When used knowledgeably, trusts benefit both financial and non-financial goals. For more information on using trusts in your estate plan, please contact our office at (925) 447-1250.

What to Consider When Hiring a Probate Attorney

When someone close to you passes away, it’s not necessary to stay with the original attorney who created their will. You may decide to find a new attorney to finalize the legal process. Here are 3 things to consider when hiring a probate attorney.

Credentials: Do Some Digging

When you need a good attorney, it’s time to do some digging. Obviously, you want to hire an attorney with a solid background in probate cases, but also consider whether they have experience in other areas that may be relevant to your situation, like real property law.

You can search online to get a sense for a lawyer’s education and expertise, including law school and years in practice, as well as other biographical details. You may find articles written by the attorney, in addition to former client reviews. Client reviews are especially useful when hiring a probate attorney. Also, the State Bar Association has a website that can tell you if the attorney you’re considering is reputable.  

Scheduling Availability

A good attorney is certain to be busy, but if it’s a struggle to schedule an appointment, or receive timely responses, it’s best to take your business elsewhere. Another thing to pay attention to is how well the attorney listens, and whether or not they’re responsive to your concerns.

Communication

Choose an attorney who takes the time to explain things clearly. It’s important that you fully understand the legal process in order to make the best decisions. A good attorney will respect your efforts to educate yourself, and clarify things that confuse you. When hiring a probate attorney, jot down a list of questions so you don’t forget anything you wanted to ask.

It’s important that you’re comfortable with the attorney you hire. These points should help you with the screening process. Contact us at Lewman Law to find out if we’re the right fit for you.

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