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Orange County Probate & Estate Administration Law Blog

Kids dispute Mickey Rooney's will that left everything to stepson

Regardless of the size of your estate, chances are that you have an idea of what you want to happen to it after your death. Having a will or a trust set up is a good way to ensure that your chosen heirs receive whatever you intend for them. However, even these arrangements can be called into question, and will contests are not uncommon in California.

It is hard to judge someone's decisions when they are no longer around, so these disputes can often be difficult to settle. For the family of recently deceased Hollywood star Mickey Rooney, the matter of inheritance is currently a point of contention. The 93-year-old actor disinherited his eight biological children, leaving his entire estate to his stepson.

Elderly couple leaves their California estate to a museum

Planning what will become of their assets after death is an important process for many people. It is essential to ensure that your wishes are made clear so there will be no confusion as to what you want done. Many people choose to prepare a will or to set up a trust to ensure their chosen beneficiaries receive whatever is intended for them. Thanks to careful management through probate, a certain valuable California estate will now be directed to where its owners designated.

The California couple requested that the Plains Indians and Pioneers Museum, located in Oklahoma, be the repository of their entire estate, estimated at more than $1 million. The estate includes a number of artifacts and artwork collected by the couple. Although they moved to California in 1929, they retained a place in their hearts for their home state of Oklahoma.

When it comes to estate planning, think long-term

When many people think of estate planning, they often think of planning for what will happen after they die. They write a will, establish trusts and take other steps to ensure that their wishes will be fulfilled in a way that is easiest on their loved ones. While these are all important things to do, a comprehensive estate plan should also address what will happen if you become incapacitated or are no longer able to care for yourself.

Imagine that you reach a point where you cannot take care of yourself. Maybe you become ill or old age simply begins to set in. If you are not lucky enough to have a family member nearby who can take care of you, some form of assisted living may be necessary. If you haven't planned properly, however, you could be hit with thousands of dollars in nursing home and medical bills. No one wants to end up in a situation like this, and one way to prevent it is to consider long-term care insurance.

Wait ... she died in February and established the trust in March?

A California woman has been charged with eight felonies committed, authorities say, during her stint as a caregiver for an elderly woman. The charges include elder theft, grand theft, commercial burglary and identity theft. If there is an upside to this story, it is that the alleged misconduct occurred after the suspect's client, a woman in her 90s, passed away.

Also, the harm appears to have been monetary and not physical. It could have been worse. The most worrisome part of the case is that the suspect was hired through an agency, and she had twice passed background checks that included fingerprinting. The agency apparently did everything right before sending this woman into an elderly client's home.

Court to decide who will be guardian of Paul Walker's daughter

When actor Paul Walker died in November 2013, he and his 15-year-old daughter had only been living together for a couple of years. She was raised by her mother and reportedly spent little time with her dad before deciding to move to California to live with him. According to news reports, though, he enjoyed his new status as a dad, so it came as no surprise that he left his entire estate to her.

We write often about the estate plans and probate issues of celebrities. We must reiterate our explanation: First, most of us do not warrant a few pages in People magazine or a couple of columns in the Wall Street Journal. Second, many of the issues that come up in celebrities' wills, trusts and estates also come up in the wills, trusts and estates of the rest of us.

Not having an estate plan is like playing football without a helmet

The Super Bowl is long over, and we are well into March. Where the time went, we have no idea. It isn't as if the weather here in Southern California has changed much since February. Nevertheless, after discussing Julie Harris's will and a handful of other probate and estate planning matters, we thought we would circle back to professional football. Or, to be more accurate, professional football players.

When it comes to estate planning for NFL players, it is important to remember that not all pros earn millions of dollars a year. There are certainly high-asset players, but there are also average Joe's. What players do have in common is that their careers can be over in a second: The high risk of injury poses some long-term planning challenges. Chances are good, too, that their football careers will not continue into old age.

Actress' will contest - claims of fraud, undue influence, p6

We are at last laying to rest our discussion of the dispute over actress Julie Harris's will. When we left off, we were talking about the response of the executors of Harris's estate to allegations of fraud and undue influence. They pointed out that the information the complainant, Harris's one-time attorney, had supplied to support the allegation was not based on personal knowledge.

Indeed, they pointed out that some letters between the complainant and Harris showed that he had no way of knowing what the actress's state of mind was when she wrote her final will and codicil. To prevail, he would have to have seen it happen.

Actress' will contest - claims of fraud, undue influence, p5

Nothing brings glamour to Southern California like the Academy Awards. This year's "In Memoriam" segment will include stars like Esther Williams and Eleanor Parker and, of course, Julie Harris, the subject of our last few posts.

Harris fired her long-time attorney in 2009, and he is contesting the will she drafted after that with the help of the two men she ended up appointing as executors. Her former attorney, the complainant, believes she was the victim of undue influence and fraud at the hands of the executors.

Actress' will contest - claims of fraud, undue influence, p4

Who can contest a will? Anyone, really, can find fault with a will or can point out the unfairness of a bequest. Anyone can claim that the old lady must have been out of her mind to sign the thing. Anyone can accuse family members or Rasputins of abusing a loved one's trust. Anyone can object to the contents of a person's last will and testament.

The court, however, will not hear just anyone's claim. And that is why the executors of Julie Harris's estate have asked the probate court to dismiss the claim of undue influence and fraud filed against them by the actress's former attorney.

Actress' will contest - claims of fraud, undue influence, p3

We are continuing our discussion of a will contest involving the estate of Julie Harris. Because the case is not playing out in California, our readers may be wondering why the matter is appropriate for this blog. There may also be concerns that we are prying into the private affairs of Harris's heirs and even Harris herself. She lived a quiet life dedicated to the theater; though she worked in television and movies, she was not a "Hollywood type." Why should we spend so much time on this?

Wills are contested all the time, and estates are often involved in litigation. The truth is, though, that only high-profile cases come to the attention of the media, and what makes a case "high-profile" can be a celebrity somewhere in the mix, a high-asset estate or an unusual back story, among other things. These cases can serve as an example of how probate law works or of the challenges of estate administration. Without having to raid the county clerk's files, we can talk about these cases for the legal issues, not just the tweet-worthy drama.

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