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The 8 Stages of California Estate & Trust Litigation: Investigation and Research

February 15, 2014
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Litigation is a process requiring continual legal analysis — the application of facts to the law. Thorough investigation of the facts, and legal research to determine the applicable law, are therefore the indispensable first step. We are constantly performing this “first step” for our clients, from those in nearby Walnut Creek, Alamo, and Orinda, to those in other states.

Investigation begins with establishing what the client knows and how he or she knows it. Many clients say they “know” something is true. As your attorneys, we want to know how you know it. For example, if a client says “I know my father didn’t know he was disinheriting me,” we will want to know how she knows; what did she see or hear that caused her to reach this conclusion? As is often said – it’s not what you know, but what you can prove, that counts.

We also try to interview any witnesses who will speak with us without being compelled to do so by a court order. While those sympathetic to the client’s case (usually friends and family) are often willing to talk, the most important witnesses, such as doctors, nurses, caregivers, and attorneys, are usually unwilling to discuss a case outside a formal deposition.

If the authenticity of a document is in question, we hire a forensic document examiner (commonly called a “handwriting expert”). In several cases, the early determination of the authenticity of a suspect document has been invaluable. In one case for a Walnut Creek couple, our document examiner identified several forged signatures in a notary’s notary book, which proved hugely persuasive at trial.

In financial elder abuse cases, we often review financial records for signs of unauthorized withdrawals or expenditures, or real estate records to determine title and discover if any debt has been placed on property.

Although they are often difficult to obtain before a case begins, medical records are enormously valuable in any case involving claims of incapacity, undue influence, or elder abuse.

While investigation often involves close collaboration with the client, legal research is solely the attorneys’ responsibility. After performing initial investigation and research we advise clients of their chances of success, which sets reasonable expectations about the likely outcome of the case.

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