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Los Angeles Probate & Estate Administration Law Blog

What family dynamics can predict an estate battle?

One advantage of having a carefully-considered, detailed estate plan is that you minimize the chance of fighting among heirs after you're gone. Even close family members can turn on each other if they believe that they were unfairly or mistakenly denied the inheritance they expected.

There are myriad family dynamics that can be predictors of an estate battle. Following are a few, along with steps you can take in your estate planning to minimize resulting issues.

What debts must be paid after a person dies?

One of the major concerns of family members who have lost a loved one has to do with the financial aspects of the death. People who are dealing with an estate that is a fairly nice size will have to determine what debts must be paid and in what order. The estate administrator is the person who will have to deal with these matters.

When you are going over the assets and debts for an estate, you need to understand how to handle the debts. There are several factors that have to be considered. Here are a few that you need to remember:

What does being an executor involve?

If a loved one asks you to be the executor of his or her estate, it's understandably not something you want to think about until you have to. However, after your loved one is gone, you're likely going to be in a state of grief and perhaps denial.

Therefore, it's important to know what being an executor entails and to be as prepared as possible when the time comes. The more detailed and organized your loved one has been in his or her estate planning, the easier the job will be for you.

Real property deeds and avoiding probate in California

Creating an estate plan that truly protects your assets and makes your intentions known regarding the dispersal those assets is often far more complicated than one might expect here in California, especially when it comes to real estate.

Without a properly prepared estate plan and will, your wishes for your estate may not align with a slew of state laws that govern real estate and probate. Considering the relatively low threshold for probate in the Golden State, nearly every property owner must deal with probate one way or another in when executing an estate plan. However, a poorly executed will or plan may simply create larger conflicts for beneficiaries and drain the resources of the estate while the matter gets resolved.

What happens if a parent dies in debt?

As Americans live longer and have to stretch their retirement savings farther, many people die owing more money than they have. Increasingly, older Americans are in debt -- sometimes substantial debt. Almost a quarter of people over 75 are still making mortgage payments. When people who have more debt than assets die, their adult children are forced to deal with their parents' debt as they manage their estate.

When someone dies, his or her debt transfers to that person's estate and is paid out of the estate. However, if there aren't enough assets in the estate to cover those debts, the deceased's survivors (with the exception of spouses) usually aren't responsible for the debt if they aren't co-signers on it.

Estate planning for parents of kids with substance abuse issues

Increasingly, Californians doing their estate planning have to deal with the reality that they have a child with a substance abuse problem. Even when children are in recovery, parents may be understandably concerned about what could happen if they inherited a large sum of money or considerable assets. Even a few thousand dollars given in a lump sum to an addict could lead to tragic consequences.

There are a number of options for parents of addicts. Some involve trusts. It's essential to have a trustee whom you can rely on to oversee the trust responsibly. Your child's well-being and even life may depend on it. It may seem obvious to choose another child or other family member for this responsibility, but that's not always wise. It can complicate an already difficult family situation.

Billionaire mogul's estate the subject of California court battle

Recently, we discussed the battle over music legend James Brown's estate among those involved in his complicated personal life. Now the estate of another wealthy and colorful man, billionaire mogul Kirk Kerkorian, is the source of a legal battle here in California nearly three years after his death at 98 years old in June 2015. The state's attorney general is even involved.

Kerkorian is known for, among other things, envisioning the future of Las Vegas back in the post-World War II era and for buying MGM studios multiple times. The man who didn't get beyond the eighth grade was at one point reportedly the wealthiest person in Los Angeles.

If you are an intestate heir, you might have options

If you have a close relative, such as your mother or father, who has recently passed away in the Torrance area, you may be able to claim that you are one of the heirs to the property in the estate. If your relative died without leaving a will, you might still be able to inherit. Simply because a relative does not have a valid will does not mean that you do not have a claim on one's property.

However, things can get murky when there is no Last Will and Testament. In cases like these, were the decedent is intestate, it usually falls to the state where the property is located to decide who gets to inherit. In other cases, it is the state where the decedent lived at the time of death. As you can imagine, dealing with such an estate can be extremely complicated.

Why you shouldn't have a do-it-yourself estate plan

The majority of Americans don't have a will. Even many of those who realize that they should put something in place to lay out how their assets will be distributed and, more importantly, who will take care of their kids, use do-it-yourself (DIY) methods.

There is no end to software options for people who want to draft their own will without the hassle and cost of consulting an attorney. Many people think they don't have enough money to warrant getting legal advice. Even some people with millions of dollars sometimes think that their estate is simple.

Music legend's James Brown's estate still mired in family battles

Recently, we discussed the fact that many estate disputes involve stepmothers and their stepchildren. That's the case with the estate of music legend James Brown. The "Godfather of Soul" died just over 11 years ago, on Christmas Day 2006, after a complicated life that included drugs, multiple arrests and estrangement from some of his children.

Brown had what no less than the South Carolina Supreme Court called a "carefully crafted estate plan" that directed most of his millions of dollars to be used for scholarships for underprivileged children in South Carolina and Georgia. He also left scholarship money to his grandchildren and other assets to children he acknowledged as his. Estimates of the value of the estate range from under $5 million to $100 million. However, those assets are caught in a legal quagmire.

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