The probate process is a legal proceeding that takes place after an individual's death. It involves identifying, gathering, and distributing the deceased person's assets according to their will, or if no will exists, according to state law. While essential, the probate process can be complex and fraught with challenges.
Issues that May Arise & How to Handle Them
Here are some of the most common issues faced during probate, as well as actionable strategies to address them:
- Settle creditors’ claims. One of the most common issues that arise during probate is the claims made by creditors. The executor of the estate must notify creditors of the death, allowing them a chance to make a claim on the estate for any debts owed. Keeping meticulous records is crucial. Be sure to document all communication with creditors, and consult with a probate attorney if you're unsure about the validity of a claim.
- In-fighting. Conflicts between beneficiaries can complicate the probate process. Disagreements may occur over the interpretation of the will or distribution of assets. Open communication and mediation can help resolve conflicts. If disputes persist, it might be necessary to involve a probate lawyer to ensure fair and legal distribution of assets.
- Tax responsibility. The estate is responsible for paying any taxes owed by the deceased. These can include income taxes, estate taxes, and inheritance taxes. Enlist the help of a tax professional who can guide you through this process and ensure all tax obligations are met.
- Executor rejects their role. Sometimes, the named executor may reject their role due to personal reasons or the complexity of the task. However, this issue is easily fixable. If the executor cannot or will not serve, the court will appoint a successor executor. Having a backup executor named in the will can streamline this process.
- Estate value disputes. Disputes may arise about the value of the estate, particularly if it contains unique or hard-to-appraise items. Hiring a professional appraiser can help provide an objective valuation. This can prevent disputes and ensure a fair distribution of assets.
- Missing heirs. Locating all potential heirs can be a challenge, especially if the deceased did not leave a comprehensive list. To address this issue, you should consider hiring a professional genealogist or heir search service to locate missing heirs and ensure they receive their rightful inheritance.
- Liquidity issues. Sometimes, an estate may not have enough liquid assets (cash) to cover debts, taxes, and bequests. It might be necessary to sell some of the estate's assets to generate the required cash. Consult with a financial advisor or probate attorney to explore your options.
An Attorney Can Help with Obstacles
Probate can be a complex and often stressful process, particularly for those with limited legal experience. However, hiring a probate attorney early in the process can help alleviate these challenges and potentially avoid them entirely. For instance, they can review the will for any potential issues, advise on the payment of debts and taxes, and assist in resolving disputes before they escalate.
At Bowler & Twitchell LLP, we understand that navigating through probate legal matters can be daunting. Our team of skilled attorneys is well-versed in dealing with the complexities of probate litigation from handling wills to resolving disputes and dealing with inheritance taxes. Our track record speaks volumes about our proficiency in this field.
Facing issues in your probate case? Contact Bowler & Twitchell LLP online or via phone (702) 703-6998.