The foundation of trust litigation is the legal right to an inheritance. It is often a question whether people undergoing trust litigation issues have a right to an estate.
Heirs at law are people entitled to a decedent’s inheritance as a matter of law. A relationship or a legal document can define this.
When there is no legal document in place, we look to the family of the decedent when assessing who should receive the inheritance. Children of the decedent are given the first consideration. If a decedent has children, they will be the primary inheritor of the estate. Spouses are also given the same consideration, but it depends on whether the assets in question are community or separate. If the asset is community property, the spouse will be considered an heir at law along with the decedent’s children; this is because, in CA, property and assets acquired during the marriage are considered to be owned equally by each spouse. However, the spouse is not necessarily given the same deference if the assets are separate property.
If the decedent does not have children or a spouse, the next family members given consideration are the parents of the decedent. If the parents, however, are no longer alive, then the siblings of the decedent will be the next heirs at law. If the siblings have passed and they have children, it goes to the siblings’ children. If there are no siblings and no children, the cascade continues with the grandparents of the decedent being the next heirs at law and their line of family given similar consideration, which would be the aunts and uncles of the decedent and their children being the next in line if they have any. Essentially, you look to the next generation and go down those lines of family members.
If there is an estate document in place, it is much simpler. Trusts and Wills will list the beneficiaries; if you are listed as a beneficiary of the estate, you are legally entitled to the inheritance. However, as we often see in trust litigation, the truthfulness of these documents can be jeopardized and may not accurately reflect the heirs at law. For example, sometimes, children of the decedent are wrongfully excluded from a trust or disinherited. Children of the decedent are considered the highest level of heirs, and in situations where they are disinherited wrongfully, the relationship alone can be enough to contest the document.
If you are undergoing an inheritance dispute, please reach out to The Inheritance Recovery Attorneys. Our firm offers free consultations and specializes in trust and will litigation. We are here to help you protect your inheritance and ensure your loved one’s wishes are fulfilled honestly.