Settling 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:
- Who should be in control of a deceased person’s property? (In other words, who should be named the Executor or Personal Representative?)
- Has a trustee or personal representative done something wrong? Or has that person failed to do what was required?
- 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?)
- Who should get the property of a deceased person?
- 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.