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Los Angeles widow's future hinges on probate hearing

One of the primary duties of an estate planning attorney is to translate a person’s wishes into legal language that casts no doubts in court. Heirs, beneficiaries and probate judges cannot quiz a decedent. Estate choices a person makes while alive must be absolutely clear to avoid misinterpretation.

Most California estate plans are not created with the intention to shock heirs and beneficiaries. Disappointment among relatives frequently leads to costly, time-intensive probate litigation. Outdated and poorly-constructed estate plans inadvertently cause family rifts that may never heal.

An elderly Los Angeles widow recently learned the Highland Park home she and her husband once shared was up for probate auction. The 78-year-old stroke victim said she was unaware of any problem with her late husband’s estate until the day the auction sign appeared in the front yard.

The couple was not married but shared the 780-foot cottage for 27 years. The state maintains a registry for domestic partnerships but does not acknowledge common law marriages, even when couples do.

The widow said her husband signed a will before his 2011 death that left the cottage to her. She assumed the mortgage had been satisfied. The county claims back taxes are owed and lists the woman as a renter, not a homeowner.

County officials notified the woman there was a probate problem. The widow’s health concerns apparently caused her to miss a deadline to dispute the issue. The woman also claims she checked with the tax assessor’s office to make sure property taxes were up to date.

The county will auction the house as planned. The buyer must attend a confirmation hearing within 60 days of the sale. The hearing will give the elderly woman a final opportunity to state her case. An estate planning attorney would be invaluable to help prove the validity of the late husband’s will in the widow’s quest to save her home.

Source:  articles.latimes.com, "Woman, 78, could lose home in probate confusion" Bob Pool, Apr. 26, 2013

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