There are a few standard questions I almost always get when people find out that I work in probate litigation. “Do people call you right away when their relatives die?” “Isn’t that tough to deal with, emotionally?” And most frequently, “What can I do to make sure no one challenges my estate plan after I
Earlier this month, a Michigan jury considered whether handwriting in a spiral notebook found under a couch cushion at singer Aretha Franklin’s home constituted her valid last will. Franklin had written and signed the four-page document, and dated it “3/31/14,” but it was not signed by any witness. A six-person jury deemed the 2014 will…
Typewritten wills in California generally require the signatures of two witnesses to be found valid, but the harmless error rule can save the day. Probate Code section 6110(c)(2), as recently discussed, provides that a will not properly executed may be admitted to probate if the proponent “establishes by clear and convincing evidence that, at the time the testator signed the will, the testator intended the will to constitute the testator’s will.”
Exactly where a court’s jurisdiction begins and ends is a question that has long irked our judicial system. One muddle is the extent to which federal courts, as opposed to state courts, can decide disputes involving a decedent’s estate.
The probate exception to federal jurisdiction reserves to state courts the probate or annulment of a will and the administration of a decedent’s estate. The exception also precludes federal courts from disposing of property in a state probate court’s custody. While outwardly straightforward, the exception continues to perplex judges.
The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals took up the probate exception in Silk v. Bond, 65 F.4th 445 (9th Cir. 2023), a case involving a wealth advisor who sought to collect his fee. Spoiler alert: the probate exception may be narrower than you think.
Charities sometimes spar over entitlement to bequests and other planned gifts. Occasionally, their disagreements become epic legal battles that span many years.
In Breathe Southern California v. American Lung Association (2023) 88 Cal.App.5th 1172 , two former affiliates fought over the allocation of three bequests. The local organization prevailed, but only after two trips to the California Court of Appeal – that’s a long time to hold your breath.
When does a California estate planning attorney owe a duty of care to people other than the client? Planners can breathe easier after a recent appellate ruling. The court clarified the limits on legal malpractice claims brought by nonclients.
In Gordon v. Ervin, Cohen & Jessup LLP (2023) 88 Cal.App.5th 543, the court explained that a client’s intent to benefit a nonclient must be clear, certain and undisputed in order for the lawyer to owe a duty to the nonclient. If the facts are ambiguous, the nonclient cannot sue the lawyer for malpractice.
Here’s another reason (uno más in Spanish) to create and properly execute a will. If your spouse or other trusted designee lives out of the country when you die, he or she won’t be eligible to administer your California estate. The recent case of Estate of El Wardani (2022) 82 Cal.App.5th 870, involving…
Studies and surveys reveal an equity gap in estate planning. Americans in communities of color are less likely to have plans in place, a troubling disparity given how important estate planning is for all of us.
Advance health care directives allow elders to choose a decision maker and to express preferences as to palliative care…
California law is surprisingly unclear as to whether the notes of an estate planning attorney are protected from discovery by the attorney work product doctrine. This can become a big issue in a will or trust contest when the attorney’s files may contain pivotal evidence as to the client’s intent, mental capacity and/or vulnerability to…
We wrote last July about a draft California ethics opinion regarding clients who may have diminished mental capacity.
After receiving public comment, the State Bar’s Standing Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct has now finalized Formal Opinion Number 2021-207, which is close in content to the earlier opinion.
Opinion Number 2021-207 is useful resource…