Gerald Willits died at the age of 76 years old, in Orange County.  Mr. Willits, a plumber, lived a life of solitude, estranged from his daughter and so detached from others that it was several days before anyone discovered his remains.

The rooms in Mr. Willits’ one-story house were piled high with paper, fast-food wrappers and other trash, and were infested with rats.


A year after his death, Robin Williams’ third wife, Susan, and his kids Zachary (from his first marriage), Zelda and Cody (both from his second marriage), are still at war with one another.  The issues at stake are: division of his personal property, which was not explicitly dealt with in his trust, and; how much money is needed to maintain the residence that Susan shared with Williams, for which, per Williams’ estate planning documents, his estate is to provide sufficient funds to maintain during Susan’s life.


A will or trust can not only fail to carry out the decedent’s intent, it can actually frustrate the intended estate distribution, and cost the decedent’s loved ones significant time and money, not to mention anguish.

Particularly in an era of online-assisted do-it-yourself legal work, poorly made self-made and cookie cutter wills and trusts abound.


No contest clauses, also known as in terrorem (literally, “in fear”) clauses, are a type of safeguard against will and trust challenges.  Inserted by the testator (the person who made the will) or trustmaker (aka “trustor” or “grantor”), these clauses effectively tell beneficiaries, “if you try to challenge the will/trust, you will lose your share of inheritance.

Probate Litigation

Probate litigation is sometimes necessary to protect the rights of beneficiaries or heirs, potentially due to an unclear or poorly drafted will or due to a dispute among family members. Probate law in California can be complicated and these matters may easily become hotly contested due to emotionally charged issues and legal complexities.

What does Probate Administration consist of?

Probate administration entails, at its most basic:

Submitting the Decedent’s will (if there is one) to the appropriate Probate Court (“the Court)”;
Obtaining Letters of administration (with or without a will) and an order for Probate;
Providing proper and timely Notice of Petition to administer the Decedent’s estate, and filing proof of same with the Court;
Attending the hearing on Petition, or telecourt appearance for same;
Filing Duties and Liabilities of Representative or Executor;
Obtaining a taxpayer identification numbers;
Notification to proper government agencies;
Obtaining and submitting proper documentation for the purpose of attaining authority over the Decedent’s assets;
Identifying and gaining control of the Decedent’s assets;
Maintaining the Decedent’s assets (maintaining the condition and safety of real and personal property; making appropriate investments; ensuring cash accounts are held in interest-bearing accounts);
Arranging preparation of final personal income tax returns, and for estate returns;
Preparing and submitting Inventory & Appraisal of Decedent’s date of death assets to probate referee;
Paying debts not requiring formal claims;
Approving or Rejecting creditor claims;
Filing and Inventory & Appraisal with the Court;
Keeping track of all income, receipts, costs and losses, and providing a formal accounting to the Court;
Preparing and submitting a Final Order with Accounting and Proposed Distribution, which also requires giving proper notice to beneficiaries and other necessary parties, and filing Proof of same;
Determining and paying statutorily calculated fees for attorney and representative/executor;
Attending hearing or telecourt on same;
Making court-ordered distributions and obtaining Receipts;
Filing Receipts;
Filing Petition for Discharge of Representative or Executor;

In addition to these tasks, handling Objections to, e.g., the Petition for Probate, or to a Claim rejection or to the Proposed Final distribution, may be necessary.

What is Probate?

Probate is the process whereby the local Probate Court, pursuant to state and local rules, oversees the administration and disposition of a Decedent’s estate.  The main purpose of probate administration is to ensure proper distribution of the Decedent’s estates to his or her heirs, as well as ensure the Decedent’s outstanding, valid creditors are properly paid.