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By: Scott Grossman on August 27th, 2016

Undetermined Heirs Can Lead To Estate Litigation

When a person dies and his or her loved ones are left to administer the estate, the process is not always smooth and amicable. There are many potential disputes that can arise during this sensitive and often emotionally charged time period. One type of dispute that sometimes occurs involves undetermined heirs who need to invoke court involvement in order to determine their legal rights to an estate.

When Undetermined Heirs become an Estate Litigation Issue?

The issue surrounding whether someone is a rightful heir of an estate can arise under many different circumstances. The following are four of the more common scenarios:

  1. There is no will or trust that describes who is to receive some or all of the decedent’s property.
  2. There is remaining property to be distributed after the surviving spouse of the decedent receives his or her portion of the property, in accordance with California law.
  3. The personal representative of the estate experiences difficulty locating surviving heirs.
  4. When there are questions as to the maternity or paternity of a potential heir.

When one of these situations exists, a potential heir may find themselves petitioning the court in order to protect their rights to the estate.

How Can an Heir Prove Their Heirship?

In order to prove that a person is the rightful heir to an estate, he or she may need to file a petition in the Superior Court of the county where the estate administration is taking place. According to California law, this petition must include the following information in order to be considered by the court:

  1. The heir’s basic information, including full name and contact information.
  2. A description of the property being claimed by the heir.
  3. The names and contact information of other potential heirs, if known.
  4. Information evidencing the heir’s relationship to the deceased. A good example would be a birth certificate.

Failing to provide any of the required information could cost the potential heir. Resulting in a loss of any rights that he or she may have had to the estate.

What Comes Next After the Filing of the Heirship Petition?

Once the potential heir has filed the petition with the required supporting documentation, the judge must then determine its validity following a hearing on the matter. However, interested parties may come forward and dispute the petition. An interested party is deemed to include any party that has a possible claim to the property at issue. The interested party may contest the potential heir’s status as an heir or his or her rights to the property at hand. Interested parties typically learn of the potential heir’s petition because the potential heir is required to provide adequate notice of the petition, by mail or by publication in the newspaper, at least 15 days prior to the hearing. In some cases, the court may opt to release the potential heir from this notice requirement. If not, however, proof of adequate notice must be given to the court at the time of the hearing.

Whether you are the personal representative of an estate or a potential heir looking to protect your rights to an estate, it is important to act quickly and seek legal guidance.

If you are ready to start your case, then please give us a call or fill out our Get Help Now form.  If you want a comprehensive overview of California Probate, then click here. Should you have additional questions about trust litigation, then you will find plenty of useful information in our Learning Center.