Quitman, TX asked in Estate Planning and Probate for California

Q: My question is do we have a right to contact the lawyer and ask for a copy of will to confirm the executer and my wife's

My father in-law, my wife's father passed away over a month ago in Santa Clara CA. My sister in-law states that she is the executer of the will. Over a phone conversation my sister in-law told my wife that my wife is not getting anything from the estate. When my wife asked to see a copy of the will, sister told her that she, the sister, is under the father's lawyer instructions not to discuss any details with anybody. When I asked who is the lawyer and if we can contact the lawyer, she told my wife we are causing a lot of stress on on her and she needs to stop talking to her. Sister did not contact my wife for couple of weeks.

Now my wife is very concerned and does not want to lose her sister.

My question is do we have a right to contact the lawyer and ask for a copy of will to confirm the executer and my wife's being completely out of the will.

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2 Lawyer Answers
James L. Arrasmith
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  • Estate Planning Lawyer
  • Sacramento, CA
  • Licensed in California

A: As potential beneficiaries of the estate, your wife and her siblings have a right to know the contents of their father's will and to receive copies of any relevant legal documents. However, the process for obtaining these documents may vary depending on the laws and procedures in California.

In general, the executor of the will is responsible for managing the probate process and distributing assets to the beneficiaries according to the terms of the will. If your sister-in-law is the named executor in the will, she has a legal obligation to carry out her duties in good faith and in accordance with the law.

If your sister-in-law is refusing to provide information or copies of the will, your wife may want to consider contacting an attorney who specializes in probate and estate law. An attorney can help your wife understand her legal rights and options, and can work on her behalf to obtain the necessary information and documentation.

It's important to approach this situation with sensitivity and respect for the emotions of all involved parties, especially as your wife does not want to lose her sister. However, it's also important to ensure that your wife's legal rights are protected and that the probate process is carried out fairly and transparently.

Contact my office for a free consultation if you want further assistance.

Sally Bergman
Sally Bergman
  • Estate Planning Lawyer
  • San Mateo, CA
  • Licensed in California

A: First, many people use the terms "wills" and "trusts" interchangeably, even though they are very different in California.

If your father-in-law had a will, whoever has the original is required, within 30 days of the death, to "lodge" it with the county clerk in the county where the deceased resided at the time of death. If there is no "trust", then the will is typically filed with the court along with a Petition for Probate. Even if your sister-in-law is correct that your wife receives nothing, she is still entitled to receive a copy of the Petition and the Will.

If your father-in-law had a trust, which is more common, whoever is named as the successor trustee must serve notice of the existence of the trust and certain other information upon all beneficiaries named in the trust as well as all "intestate heirs" which would include your wife. This notice is to be sent within 60 days of the death.

If you were to call the attorney, which it sounds as though you don't know who that is, I doubt he/she would share any information with you. If your wife is concerned about being disinherited, she should contact her own attorney. I do not intend to infer, however, that your father-in-law did not have the right to disinherit your wife. That assumes he was of sound mind and was not being unduly influenced by anyone at the time he executed the will.

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