For many families, probate administration is largely a technical process. The deceased individual left clear instructions about their preferences and adequate resources to resolve all of their outstanding personal responsibilities.
The executor or personal representative goes to court to present the will or other estate planning documents. They pay off debts, close accounts and eventually distribute property. Nothing surprising happens.
However, some estates end up mired in probate litigation, which may increase how long it takes to distribute the assets in the estate and may also consume some of those resources because of probate expenses. What are some of the complications that can lead to challenges in probate court?
Questionable estate documents
Do family members believe that the date the testator created the will fell after when doctors diagnosed them with dementia or a medical condition related to significant cognitive decline, like Alzheimer’s disease? Are there family members who believe that someone may have exerted undue influence on the testator and coerced, threatened or manipulated them into changing their documents?
When family members believe that there is something wrong with the testamentary documents, they may pursue probate litigation to protect their inheritance rights and uphold the plans of the deceased person.
Perhaps the personal representative of the estate has failed to file paperwork or secure estate assets. Maybe they seem to have embezzled assets that have disappeared since the death of the testator.
They might even let their personal relationships influence how they handle estate administration instead of adhering to the instructions provided in the estate plan and state law. Those who question the actions and choices of the representative of an estate may have grounds to initiate a challenge in probate court.
Unknown creditors and beneficiaries
Sometimes, unexpected parties make a claim against an estate in probate court. There have been cases where children learn that a parent had another family and that they have half-siblings. Not only is there the shock and betrayal of this sudden claim and what it means about their recently deceased parent, but now there are more complications related to asset distribution.
Other times, there may be more creditors with valid claims than the family or testator realized, which can diminish how much eventually passes to family members. Understanding the issues that can complicate estate administration will help those planning their estates and those tasked with carrying out the last wishes of someone else.