Imagine it, your loved one passes away with no will, and after 14 long months dealing with the probate process, something unexpected happens and turns your case upside down. Now what do you do? The average person would have no idea how to proceed and could expect to spend even more time trying to find the light at the end of the probate tunnel. Never forget, Los Angeles is home to one of the longest running probate cases in United States history that started in 1925, while a single paragraph in an 1852 will led to an Ohio probate case that lasted centuries. Being aware of problems that can throw a wrench into the probate process may help you if you find yourself involved in a seemingly never-ending probate struggle.

A Beneficiary Passes Away

When a person who is named as a beneficiary in a will or who is a natural heir according to probate laws passes away, his or her rights to inherit do not die also. In the famous J. Howard Marshall II probate case, the descendant’s widow and named heir passed away before the matter was concluded. The situation became one of estates within estates battling through representatives for years after all three parties had died. The addition of numerous estates, some with their own separate disputes, can drastically prolong the probate process, making things extremely difficult for any remaining living heirs.

Safety Deposit Boxes

For years safety deposit boxes were viewed as the ultimate way to protect valuables. Jewelry, documents such as birth certificates or passports, antiques, and sometimes cash were all kept safe in a bank vault inside of a locked box. In recent years, the use of these boxes has declined by almost 50% as younger savers rely on home safes or digital storage options. Since the use of safety deposit boxes has declined so much and some banks no longer include them in their construction, heirs may not discover that their loved one owned one until well into the probate process. Discovering additional valuables or a will in a safety deposit box can completely disrupt an ongoing probate case.

Will on File

There are times when a person who is alive will file a sealed copy of his or her will in the state in which the will was executed. This will does not become a matter of public record until after the individual has died, meaning there is no way for a person to find out that it exists prior to the author’s passing. On occasion, an individual or family will start probate and later discover that a valid will was already on file that negates or disrupts any progress that was already made.

Contact an Attorney

When a loved one dies and you do not believe that he or she has a will, the first thing you should do is contact an experienced probate attorney. A skilled attorney is able to check for issues that could disrupt probate or create problems for you and your family in the future.  The attorneys at MMZ Law are here to provide you with the legal representation your need during this critical time. Contact us today to schedule an appointment at our Claremont, California location so that we can begin providing you with the assistance you deserve.




341 W. 1st St. Suite 100
Claremont, CA 91711

MARIVEL M. ZIALCITA is the founder of MMZ LAW, A Professional Corporation, where she practices in the areas of Elder Law – Medi-Cal Planning Asset Protection, Trust & Estate, Special Needs, Conservatorship, Trust Administration, & Probate. Ms. Zialcita is a frequent speaker on trust and estate matters and holds memberships in the State Bar of California, Trust and Estate Section, The San Bernardino County Bar Association, Wealth Counsel and Elder Counsel. She currently assists in the pro bono legal services program at the James L. Brulte Senior Center in Rancho Cucamonga, California. She is based in Claremont but assists clients throughout Southern California.

This information is educational information only and not legal advice.