Category Archives: Going To Court

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Trustee sister telling brother that she doesn't want to sell the house

Trustee Doesn’t Want to Sell the House

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We get this a lot: Mom or dad just died. House was in a trust. Now your brother or sister is in charge of the trust (as the trustee). The trustee doesn’t want to sell the house or distribute anything. What are you (the beneficiary) supposed to do? Here’s a checklist.

  1. Do you have a copy of the trust? (I’m not talking about a Certificate of Trust, or a deed to the house. I mean the actual 25 pages or more long trust document.) If you don’t have a copy of the trust, ask for one. If the trustee refuses to give you a copy of the trust, contact an attorney to figure out how to get a copy.
  2. Have a trust litigation attorney read the trust document and determine what is supposed to happen.
  3. Assuming the trust says the house gets sold and you are entitled to a share of trust property, how long has it been? What is in the house? If you have valuable antiques or artwork or collectibles, are those getting inventoried?  Is the house secured? A trust attorney can help you with these details and figure out what specifically needs to happen. In a very simple case, if there is nothing of value in the house, the contents can be quickly liquidated (or donated), the house cleaned up, and the house listed for sale within a month or two. Sometimes, however, it can take longer. It shouldn’t take 6 months in most cases to clean out a house and list it for sale. One year is too long (in most cases).
  4. Figure out if there’s a “No Contest Clause” in the trust. These can be danger, as discussed in a prior blog. You may need to take certain precautions before filing something with the court.
  5. Discuss the next steps with your lawyer. If there is a No Contest Clause, he or she might file a Petition for Declaratory Judgment to get the court to determine that you won’t be “contesting the trust” by seeking to get a new trustee. There are basically two options. First, you can try to get the court to order the trustee to do what is needed. However, sometimes it’s just quicker in the long run to get a more responsible person appointed as trustee. If you decide that’s the way to go, have your trust litigation lawyer prepare and file a Petition to Remove Trustee and Appoint Successor Trustee.

If the trustee is also living in the house, your lawyer will help you file an eviction (called an Unlawful Detainer). This takes longer than you might like. But generally, you can get the person removed within 45 to 60 days.

If you have any questions, call us for a free consultation. We’re here to help!

 

 


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Why Your Trust Needs a Trust Protector

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If you follow my blogs, you know by now that our law firm not only prepares Wills and Trusts. We also do probate litigation. This means that we go to court to handle messy family feuds over inheritances. One of the most common type of lawsuit has to do with a trustee who steals money, mismanages the investments, or for various reasons needs to be removed. A basic check and balance for a trust is to have a “Trust Protector” named who can remove an irresponsible trustee and appoint a successor. In this post, I will explain why your trust needs a Trust Protector.

That fact is that life is unpredictable. You have absolutely no guarantee that the people you named as trustee in your trust will actually do what you want. I have seen this too often. Let me give just a couple of real life examples.

Example One: Husband and wife sign a trust. They say that if husband dies, husband’s father and wife will be co-trustees. (This was a good idea at the time; it was one form of check and balance.) But, what wasn’t planned for? That husband and wife would get a divorce, husband would die shortly after that, and that the husband’s father would make off with all of the trust property, leaving the wife and kids impoverished. This could have easily been avoided if a Trust Protector had been named who could easily remove husband’s father as trustee and appoint a new truste.

Example Two: As mentioned by Jay Adkisson in a Forbes article from 2012, let’s assume that in your living trust you simply make one of your heirs/beneficiaries the Trustee. “The problem here is that you can’t predict the future. Maybe by the time you die the new Trustee has developed a drug problem, or maybe the Trustee harbored a grudge against one of the other heirs/beneficiaries and now wants them to get nothing (even though you wanted them to get their share). Without a Protector, the situation is bad. But with a Protector, the new Trustee can be fired.”

If your trust does not have a Trust Protector, I encourage you to amend it to include one. Personally, I prefer to have the protector have very broad powers, but also have a fiduciary duty. Thus, they are somewhat like a trustee, except that their powers are different from the trustee’s powers. The Trust Protector’s responsibility is to provide a check and balance to the trustee. The trustee is the active manage. The Trust Protector rarely gets involved except when needed to remove a trustee, modify the trust, or make other permissible changes.

This is not to be done by lay people. See a competent estate planning attorney.

P.S., if you are wondering what’s with the coat of arms and tartan, here’s my explanation. The Deloughery Coat of Arms shows horses, which are a symbol of loyalty. Also, there is a knight’s helmet. These are all symbols of protection and loyalty. These are good traits for a Trust Protector (and for a trustee, for that matter). The tartan in the background is the official Deloughery of Scottsdale tartan, duly registered in Scotland (which is where even Irish tartans need to be registered). I see a Trust Protector as being something like a knight … always on guard to protect the family fortune if necessary.


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When to Appoint a Special Administrator after Someone has Died

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If someone has died and there is an emergency about property, there is a solution. It is called a Special Administration.This blog discusses when to appoint a special administrator after someone has died. Some typical examples of when this is needed are:

a. If no one has access to the property to be able to look for a Will. Normally, if there is family around, the family be able to gain access to the house. However, if there is no family, a friend or fiduciary company may need to be appointed on a temporary basis (as a Special Administrator) to go onto the property and look for a Will.

b. If the family is fighting over family heirlooms and other personal property, it might be best to appoint a neutral third party to safeguard the property until a Personal Representative is appointed and until there is an agreement about how to divide things.

c. If the deceased person was obligated to do something (like complete the sale of a house), and a Personal Representative can’t be appointed in time for the closing.

These are just some examples that we see regularly. In any event, there is a solution. It will obviously increase the cost of the probate (because more documents need to be filed with the court and there needs to be at least one additional hearing).

Who can be appointed as Special Administrator? The Arizona statute (A.R.S. 14-3615) provides:

A. If a special administrator is to be appointed pending the probate of a will which is the subject of a pending application or petition for probate, the person named executor in the will shall be appointed if available, and qualified.

B. In other cases, any proper person may be appointed special administrator.

In other words, you appoint the person nominated in the Will. Otherwise, you can name “any proper person.” If the family is fighting, then the “proper person” is a neutral third party … preferably a licensed fiduciary.

You can see a video about this topic here. If you have any questions about special administrators, give us a call. And if you have any stories about special administrators or emergencies in probates, we would love to hear about them.


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What is a De Facto Personal Representative?

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In Arizona, and perhaps in other states, a court can hold a person liable for managing a deceased person’s estate even prior to being appointed as personal representative. I refer to such a person as a “de facto personal representative.” Under Arizona law, such liability arises according to  a combination of A.R.S. § 14-3701 and  the court’s inherit equitable powers. Such a liability can arise, for example, when someone is nominated as personal representative in the deceased person’s Will, but that person decides it is more beneficial personally to take no action (sometimes failing to probate the Will for years) and simply hold onto estate assets for personal gain. Such a person can be held accountable as a “de facto personal representative” for failure to abide by the duties of a personal representative, even prior to the person being officially appointed by the court.

The Arizona Probate Code specifically authorizes certain actions by a person acting as Personal Representative prior to appointment, thus essentially creating the possibility of a “de facto Personal Representative.” A.R.S. § 14-3701 (“Time of accrual of duties and powers”) provides:

The duties and powers of a personal representative commence on appointment. The powers of a personal representative relate back in time to give acts by the person appointed which are beneficial to the estate occurring prior to appointment the same effect as those occurring thereafter. Prior to appointment, a person named personal representative in a will may carry out written instructions of the decedent relating to the decedent’s body, funeral and burial arrangements. A personal representative may ratify and accept acts on behalf of the estate done by others where the acts would have been proper for a personal representative.

(Emphasis added.)

Courts in other states have interpreted similar statutes as creating a “de facto Personal Representative,” and have found such a person liable for failing to live up to the fiduciary duties of a Personal Representative. See, e.g., Footnote 15 of In re Estate of Bryant v. Bryant, 793 A.2d 487, 493 (D.C. 2002), which states:

While Ms. Bryant had yet to be appointed formally to serve as personal representative, D.C. Code § 20-505 (1981 and 1989 Repl.) provided that “acts which by statute are authorized to be done without prior Court approval after the issuance of letters but which in fact were committed by the personal representative prior to issuance of letters, when done in good faith, shall have the same effect as acts occurring after the issuance of letters.” A personal representative is authorized to pay valid claims and distribute the estate without first obtaining court approval. See D.C. Code §§ 20-701 (a), 20-741 (r) (1981 and 1989 Repl.). The trial court found no genuine dispute (and we agree) that Ms. Bryant acted in good faith, and without obtaining any improper personal advantage, when she transferred the funds to Charles Bryant to enable him to pay partnership creditors. Thus we treat that act as that of a de facto personal representative, and evaluate it against a personal representative’s legal obligations.

(Emphasis added.)

However, the Arizona statute (A.R.S. § 14-3701) only discusses powers of a de facto Personal Representative, and not the person’s responsibilities. Section 14-3701 states, “[t]he powers of a personal representative relate back in time to give acts by the person appointed which are beneficial to the estate occurring prior to appointment the same effect as those occurring thereafter.” Does this mean, for example, that someone acting as personal representative following appointment is held to the fiduciary duties of acting in the best interest of the successor of the estate, but that same standard does not apply to someone who, prior to appointment takes control of estate assets (such as the deceased person’s house), treats those assets as her own, fails to tell the rest of the family that they have an interest in the estate, and/or fails to collect rent (and hold it for the rest of the family)?

Such a result would make no sense. That is essentially what the Estate of Bryant case holds. And it seems ludicrous to think that an Arizona court would decide this case any differently.

If you know of someone who has failed to act responsibly regarding a deceased person’s estate (prior to that person being appointed as a Personal Representative), you should contact a probate litigation attorney right away. You may be able to have a court hold that person to the same standard as an appointed Personal Representative, including the duties to serve the “best interests” of the successors to the estate, and to act with fairness and impartiality to the other heirs and devisees (beneficiaries of a Will).


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When One Party to a Contract Dies

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If one party to a contract dies, the deceased person’s estate can usually simply enforce the agreement the same as if the original party to the contract were still alive. However, things can get even more complicated when dealing with family. For example, let’s say that one person loans money to another, such as when a parent loans money to a child. Is the contract still enforceable even when one party to a contract dies? Being a lawyer, my answer is, “It depends.”

For purposes of this post, I’m going to assume that there once was a valid contract. In other words, I’m not going to analyze the requirements to form a valid contract (such as offer, acceptance, lack of valid defenses, etc.). And I’m not going to analyze whether it was required to have been in writing (such as for a contract to transfer real property). However, I will discus some of the trickier issues that can arise when a person who is part of a contract (in other words, a “party to the contract”) dies.

Statute of Limitations Issues. A statute of limitations is a statute that limits the amount of time within which you can bring a legal action to enforce a contract. In Arizona, for example, a legal action to enforce a written contract signed in Arizona must be brought within six years of the breach. See A.R.S. 12-548. But what happens when we are dealing with family members?

Imagine this example: A parent loaned money to a child 10 years ago, and the parties signed a written loan agreement. The loan agreement stated the amount that was due and the interest rate. However, it did not provide a due date. The parent just died. Is the contract enforceable by the parent’s estate? Probably yes, unless some other defense applied, such as laches.

How about if the contract required periodic payments, plus an optional acceleration clause on the due date of each matured but unpaid installment? In that event, the six-year period would begin to run on the due date of each matured but unpaid installment. As to unmatured future installments, the period commences on the date the creditor exercises the optional acceleration clause. Navy Fed. Credit Union v. Jones, 187 Ariz. 493, 930 P.2d 1007, 233 Ariz. Adv. Rep. 47, 1996 Ariz. App. LEXIS 281 (Ariz. Ct. App. 1996).

Discovery Rule. This is the rule that a claim accrues when the plaintiff knew or should have known by exercise of reasonable diligence that the plaintiff had been injured. Gust, Rosenfeld & Henderson v. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., 182 Ariz. 586, 898 P.2d 964, 193 Ariz. Adv. Rep. 3, 1995 Ariz. LEXIS 55 (Ariz. 1995). The important inquiry in applying the discovery rule is whether the plaintiff’s injury or the conduct causing the injury is difficult for the plaintiff to detect. Gust, Rosenfeld & Henderson v. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., 182 Ariz. 586, 898 P.2d 964, 193 Ariz. Adv. Rep. 3, 1995 Ariz. LEXIS 55 (Ariz. 1995).

Dead Man’s Statute. Arizona’s “Dead Man’s Statute” provides that “neither party shall be allowed to testify against the other as to any transaction with or statement by the testator…unless called to testify thereto by the opposite party, or required to testify thereto by the court.” A.R.S. § 12–2251. While most other states have eliminated their Dead Man’s Statutes, Arizona still has such a statute. However, it is discretionary. Personally, I have raised the Arizona Dead Man’s Statute multiple times over the years. In the context of a dispute over a written promissory note, the issue might be whether the debtor made payments that he claims should have reduced the debt. Verbal discussions with the deceased person over whether there was an agreement that payments or services (such as repairing the deceased person’s roof) were to be applied to the amount owing on the debt would usually fall within the Dead Man’s Statute. However, I have yet to witness a probate judge or commissioner actually keep evidence out based on the statute. Similarly, such discussions also typically fall within the definition of hearsay, but such hearsay statements are usually allowed in as freely as the shirttail relatives that often attend probate hearings.

This is by no means an exhaustive discussion. If you are trying to enforcement a contract against a deceased person’s estate (or if you are in charge of an estate involving such a situation), you really need an attorney.

If you have had any experience involving the enforcement of a contract when one of the parties has died, please share below.

 


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Recovering from Trustee Misconduct

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Recovering from Trustee MisconductBeneficiaries of a trust depend greatly on the trustee to act in the best interest of the beneficiaries and the trust.

Unfortunately, trustees don’t always live up to the duty and responsibility of their position. Beyond creating headaches for family members and other beneficiaries, such misconduct can rob them of their inheritance.

In previous posts we covered the actions that can led to the removal of a trustee [link to post on what qualifies trustee for removal] and how to petition the court to remove the trustee and appoint a successor.

After those important steps, how do you go get back the stolen or misused money? It all depends on whether you are able to trace where the money was sent, if it was spent or if it still exists in some form. Let’s look at an example:

If a trustee used money from the trust to buy a new house, and if that house has not been sold or transferred to someone else, you can get a court order to freeze the property and eventually have it transferred back to the trust.

If the money is gone, there are three ways to recover funds:

  1. Surcharge. This applies if the trustee is also a beneficiary of the trust. In this situation, the former trustee’s inheritance from the estate can be reduced by the amount of any judgment the court passes against him or her. To have a surcharge ordered on a former trustee, you must file what’s known as a “Petition for Surcharge” with the probate court.
  2. Seize assets. If you’re able to trace the trustee’s spending to existing assets (cars, jewelry or other property), or if you’re able to show bank statements showing cash the trustee’s withdrawals from estate funds at ATM machines, the court can place a judgment against the trustee, making it more likely that you will get the money back. If the trustee has spent money on intangible purchases such as vacations, it will be much harder to get the money back.
  3. Personal refund. If the trustee has other personal assets (such as a house or bank accounts), the court can order the former trustee to turn over those assets to compensate for the value taken from the trust.

The process of getting the money returned can be lengthy. It can take from three to six months or more to settle a case recovering losses. The court process involves gathering evidence, and filing a petition with the probate court (this is all part of the steps necessary to remove a trustee).

After the court determines the amount of damages caused by the former trustee, the new trustee or other beneficiaries can then request the court to make further orders. To give an example, let’s say that a former trustee, Roger, owned a house, which used to be owned by the trust. After Roger has been removed from the position of trustee, the court can order that the house belong again to the trust. An attorney for the trust can then get a certified copy of the order and record the ownership of the property with the county recorder in the county where the property is located.

If you’re dealing with a trustee who is mishandling a trust, don’t wait to seek help. An experienced probate litigation attorney can walk you through the tricky and complicated petitioning process. It’s important to have someone knowledgeable on your side who knows the law and the court system.

Your attorney should work closely with you and the court to help you recover lost funds that are justly yours. The probate courts are there to help you and your family. Remember to act quickly and seek the assistance of an attorney. This will increase the likelihood that you will recover your inheritance.

Have any questions about recovering from trustee misconduct? Give us a call. We’d love to help.

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How to Petition to Remove a Trustee

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How to Petition to Remove a TrusteeLGIn a previous post, we covered the things trustees do that can lead to their being removed from that position. After you’ve identified where a trustee has abused this position of trust, and as you seek to have the offending trustee removed, the next step is to petition the court for that removal, and to appoint a successor.

It’s important that you work with an experienced probate litigation attorney on the petition process. This area of law is complex (even for lawyers). If you are unfamiliar with probate litigation, you risk increased delays and costs if things aren’t filed or presented correctly.

A trustee can be removed either by the terms of the trust or by court order. If you need to remove a trustee, the first thing is to contact a probate and trust litigation attorney who can help you put together a plan for removing the trustee.

If the trustee can’t be removed under the terms of the trust, then this will have to be done by going to court. The petition to the court should include specific details explaining why the trustee should be removed. If possible, include evidence to support your case (usually documentation such as copies of checks made out to the trustee or other evidence of the misuse of the trust’s funds or assets).

Your attorney will review the case to determine if your situation qualifies as an emergency (this can speed up the process in cases where the trustee is spending money or otherwise reducing the value of the trust).

Here’s an example of one such emergency case:

One family had a large amount of gold bullion owned by the trust. The bullion was kept in a safe in the home of the family member who was managing the trust.  Other family members noticed that the trustee had bought several new cars and expensive jewelry for his wife. The family suspected the trustee of using the bullion to fund these extravagant personal purchases.

After reviewing the case and gathering evidence that showed exactly those things, I helped the family petition for emergency status to remove the trustee. We were able to get an immediate court order freezing the assets and requiring that the remaining gold bullion be transferred to a secure storage facility.

Although you need to gather evidence of wrongdoing once you notice something wrong, the funds may not be returned. It is extremely difficult to recover money once it’s been spent. Waiting and hoping things work out rarely works out well. It’s better to take immediate action if you think a trustee is acting improperly.

Don’t be afraid to consult an attorney. Look for one who will work to protect the value of the trust while exploring ways to resolve disputes.

If you have any questions about removing a trustee or need help protecting your inheritance from an ineffective trustee, comment below or contact our office.

We’d love to help.

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How to Remove a Trustee

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How to Remove a TrusteeNot everyone works out. And you have the right, as a beneficiary of a trust, to petition to remove the trustee of the estate if he or she proves to be incompetent, hostile, dishonest or otherwise unable to fulfill the responsibilities of administering the trust.

Here’s a quick definition of a trustee and a summary of the duties of the position.

A trustee can be a person (or a trust company) who has legal title to property, who holds that property for the benefit of another and who has assumed a legal duty (also called a fiduciary duty) to act in the best interests of the beneficiaries of the trust. As you can imagine, things can go awry.

Here’s an all too-frequent scenario from a recent case:

In a case involving a prominent Phoenix family that operated multiple businesses owned by their trust, the father had passed away a number of years earlier. The mother continued running the businesses, gradually turning over control to her adult children. One of the sons took control of the trust after the mother developed dementia.

The son used the money from the trust to enhance properties he would ultimately inherit. He also bought himself a new car and started taking lavish cruises and vacations.

My clients – the siblings of this trustee – turned to me for help. First they obtained evidence of wrongdoing. In this case, they were able to get copies of checks written from the trust directly to the trustee. This gave us enough to petition the court and get the son removed as trustee and replaced with a private fiduciary.

Trusts can be set up to allow for safeguards in case of wrongdoing. That is, they contain trigger points that can lead to the removal of a trustee.

For trusts that don’t specify a mechanism to remove a trustee, the court recognizes other reasons. Here are three:

  1. If the trustee has committed a breach of the fiduciary duties of care over the assets or loyalty to the beneficiaries. Examples include failing to pay taxes, stealing assets, and not following the specifications of the trust.
  2. If the trustee is unfit, unwilling or persistently fails to act in the best interest of the beneficiaries and the trust, the court can remove the trustee.
  3. In come cases, the circumstances surrounding the trust can change significantly or all qualified beneficiaries can request the removal of the trustee. The court can review the case and remove the trustee if it deems this for the best interest of the beneficiaries, as long as this isn’t inconsistent with the original specifications and intent of the trust.

If you are the beneficiary of a trust, it’s important to know what to do if the assets are being mismanaged. Trusts are normally very private affairs. In addition, trusts, being civil matters, are outside the jurisdiction of the police. There’s typically no court supervision and no government regulation to make sure that the trust is being run properly. It’s up to you and your attorney to pay attention to how a trust is being managed.

You need to take immediate action if you believe money is being misused. Proactive action increases your ability to protect your inheritance. Contact an experienced probate attorney at the first indication that a trustee is unethical or irresponsible with trust assets.

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How to Remove a Personal Representative

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How to Remove a Personal RepresentativeSome situations in the handling of an estate warrant the removal and replacement of the executor (called a “personal representative” in Arizona) who’s been appointed by the court.

Although the person accepting the position agrees to comply with a list of laws and court orders, sometimes the representative falls short for some reason.

If the PR fails to perform the expected duties, then the deceased’s family and beneficiaries can seek help from probate court.

During the first few months of a representative’s term, when this person is learning what is required to administer an estate, the probate court is somewhat lenient. After a period of time, however, if the representative hasn’t fulfilled the required specified duties or followed procedures properly, the person may be removed as personal representative.

A PR can be removed for any of four basic reasons:

  1. If it’s in the best interest of the estate;
  2. If the personal representative had lied in the court proceeding leading to that person’s appointment as personal representative;
  3. If the personal representative disregarded a court order, has become incapable of discharging the duties of being personal representative, has mismanaged the estate, or has failed to perform any duty pertaining to the office of personal representative;
  4. If it is shown that the personal representative has intentionally disregarded the decedent’s wishes with regard to disposing of the decedent’s remains.

If you find that the PR is not fulfilling the duties of the position, the first thing you need to do is gather evidence. If it concerns the misuse of the estate’s funds, evidence can include documents such as copies of checks written to the personal representative or a copy of the deed showing that the PR transferred the decedents’ house to him or herself.

Evidence needs to be concrete. That is, the court usually does not accept situational evidence or hearsay as evidence to support removal of a PR. An example of hearsay might be a neighbor telling you that the PR said that he or she was going to steal the estate’s money or assets.

Evidence to support the removal of a personal representative can also include:

  • The fact that you have not received an inventory of the estate more than 90 days since the personal representative was appointed
  • The fact that the estate has been open for more than a year and the personal representative has not filed the required annual accounting.
  • The decedent’s house has not been listed for sale a year or more after the appointment of the personal representative.

In our firm, we frequently help families who need to remove personal representatives. It’s usually not a single incident that leads to this: In most cases the personal representative has done between five and 15 things incorrectly.

If you’re a personal representative and need help understanding and performing your duties, we can also help. If you need assistance in removing a personal representative to protect your loved one’s legacy, we can help with that, too.

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Probate Disputes: How to Deal with Estate Conflict After Someone has Died

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How to Deal with Estate Conflict After Someone has DiedSettling an estate after a loved one’s death is a complex process.  The process can be even more challenging if detrimental disagreements and conflict arise among the various people who believe they are entitled to an inheritance from the estate. The court offers a recourse to resolve such probate disputes.

Here are five of the most common probate disputes that arise after someone has died:

  1. Who should be in control of a deceased person’s property? (In other words, who should be named the Executor or Personal Representative?)
  2. Has a trustee or personal representative done something wrong? Or has that person failed to do what was required?
  3. Did someone do something wrong prior to the person’s death? (For example, did someone acting as a guardian or conservator or agent under a power of attorney do something wrong?  Perhaps a trustee helped himself or herself to money held in trust?)
  4. Who should get the property of a deceased person?
  5. Is the last will and testament valid or was it forged? Or was the deceased person pressured to sign it?

The most common probate disputes arise when the personal representative or executor of an estate is doing a poor job of fulfilling executory responsibilities.

Let’s look at a hypothetical example. When Sue dies, her son Richard is appointed as personal representative. Instead of selling Sue’s house and splitting the proceeds between his siblings (as Sue’s will specifies), Richard moves in and takes up permanent residence. He never sells the house or distributes the proceeds to the rest of the family.

To complicate matters further, Sue has had a mortgage on the home and a loan on her Buick. Her will had stated that these assets – the home, the car – were to be sold with the money from the sale distributed equally between her children, but Richard begins making the payments to the bank so the bank never complains.  Richard doesn’t take very good care of the house and car, and at some point, Richard loses his job and stops making the payments to the bank.  Now the value of the house and car have gone down and the bank is threatening to foreclose on the house and repossess the car.

Richard’s sister Beth has had enough and doesn’t want to see their mother’s legacy squandered by her brother’s failure to live up to his responsibilities as personal representative. Beth calls the police to get help evicting her brother, but the police wont’ get involved in such cases, except to prevent physical violence.

This is where probate court and a probate litigation attorney can help.

But probate should be brought in quickly. One of the biggest mistakes people make in situations similar to this is waiting too long to hire an attorney. Delayed action can result in disappearing assets.

Another common mistake is hiring an attorney who has little or no experience in probate litigation. An attorney without direct experience in resolving probate disputes won’t be able to advise you properly and may in fact leave you with the impression that nothing can be done.

Dealing with disputes when settling an estate can be quite tricky. Finding common ground in any situation may be extremely difficult without the help of a qualified lawyer. If you’re dealing with a complex situation, don’t attempt to handle the situation without the help of a skilled probate litigation attorney.

Probate attorneys do more than provide legal information. They will serve as your legal “coach” and will help you to arrive at the best possible outcome.

And working with an attorney who knows how to solve general probate disputes will give you confidence that your loved one’s estate will be handled properly.

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Appearing Pro Per: Why You Shouldn’t Represent Yourself (even if you’re a lawyer)

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There is a trend for people to represent themselves more and more in legal matters. This is called appearing “in propria persona” or “pro per.” But unless it is an extremely simple legal matter (such as a speeding ticket or small claims court dispute), you are always going to be better served by having an experienced legal advocate on your side. Here are the top 4 reasons why you shouldn’t represent yourself (even if you’re a lawyer) in probate court.
Reason #1: Even if there is no dispute now, there could be if you do something wrong. If you are the person in charge, such as the personal representative or trustee, then you are held to a very high standard. You have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of the estate, to act fairly, and to administer the estate or trust expeditiously. But the applicable probate statutes, plus case law, are complicated even for lawyers who practice exclusively in this area. And if you make a wrong move (such as distributing money to the wrong people), you can be held personally liable. Is it really worth saving a few thousand dollars to risk this much personal liability?
Reason #2: You don’t know the applicable law and rules of procedure. Unless you are an experienced probate and estate planning attorney, you are at a severe disadvantage. You are expected to know all of the applicable probate statutes, plus the probate rules, plus the civil rules (to the extent that they do not conflict with the probate rules). Then there are the softer issues, such as knowing when the hearsay rule or the Dead Man’s Statute apply. (Hint: Even if you can recite these rules by heart, that has very little to do with their application in real life during a real evidentiary hearing.)
Reason #3: You are taken more seriously by the opposing parties (and the court) if you have a lawyer. In grade school, did you ever have an older sibling, or a friend, who could help you stand up to a bully or show you the ropes of how to deal with social situations? I had an older sister who would give me straight-forward advice about how to handle various social situations. Or have you ever gone to a party in which you didn’t know anyone? That is a lot easier with a “buddy” as well. Having a lawyer is somewhat like this. You don’t need to always worry that you might forget something or do something wrong, because your lawyer has your back and is helping you navigate the system.
Reason #4: You can’t see outside your own bottle. We all imagine that we are the stars of our own movies. Yet we don’t know how others perceive us. Are we being taken seriously? Do our legal arguments make sense to other people? Is our line of thinking persuasive? There is a saying among attorneys that “An attorney who chooses to represent himself in court has a fool for a client.” Even lawyers who routinely handle legal matters know better than to handle their own cases. The reason is this: We (as lawyers) would be too emotionally involved in our own situation to be able to make rational decisions. This hurts us when it comes to making sound, logical decisions. It also hinders our ability to see the big picture, possible flaws in our thinking, and possible solutions.
If this applies to lawyers who routinely handle legal matters, then it applies even more to non-lawyers. There is definitely an advantage to hiring an experienced advocate to handle your legal drama for you. It will get done quicker and have a higher likelihood of success.

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