The loss of a loved one, especially a parent, is difficult for anyone. Even more difficult is if there are disagreements or arguments regarding the distribution of the deceased’s property and money. For many people, they become an heir when a parent dies. The death of a parent brings up a variety of emotions and history which can only further amplify the feelings of loss and grief. The best way to ensure you are treated fairly is for you to be proactive. Below are 5 tips to making sure your loved one’s estate and your interests are treated in a fair and transparent manner.
1. Review a copy of the Will (if there is one).
Perhaps the most important step is to read and review what is specified in the will. Too many times, individuals believe or have been told what is in their loved one’s will. It is possible, and all too common, that the beliefs and what someone has been told are not what is in the will. It is these misunderstandings which lead to subsequent probate litigation. It is important to review and know what is in the will because it will define who is to receive the estate’s property, who is named as personal representative(s), and other specific requests of the deceased. If your loved one has not left a will then their property is handled via a particular state’s laws which are called the laws of intestacy. Intestate simply means the person died without leaving a will.
2. Have a meeting with all heirs.
A common reason there is probate litigation is because of a breakdown in communication. The easiest way to pave the road of good communication is to have a meeting with as many heirs as possible. Typically, this is siblings. The goal of the meeting is to get everyone on the same page with respect to how communication will take place about the estate, distribution of property, and closing the estate. If there is no will, the meeting can also discuss who wants to or should become the personal representative of the estate. This can also be discussed even if a will does name who is to be personal representative. The group should try to decide on which attorney will handle the estate. Picking an attorney the group is comfortable with and feel they can communicate with is very important.
3. Open communication with the personal representative.
When the personal representative is named by the Court, you should try to have open communication with them. When you have communication with them make sure it is written communication. This could be letters, emails, text messages, and other forms of written communications. Although there is nothing improper about having verbal communication, telephone calls, or in person discussions, people have a tendency of construing those conversation to their favor or not remembering them if disagreements crop up about the estate. Written communication ensures those communications are preserved and cannot be misconstrued or forgotten. In the event litigation must be undertaken, written communications are invaluable in establishing your claim(s). Hopefully, the personal representative will agree and be open in their communication with potential heirs. One way to ensure regular communication happens is to request the personal representative send communication on a periodic basis. This could be weekly, monthly, or another appropriate time period based on the circumstances of the estate. If you are the personal representative having open communication will help avoid the allegation you are not following the deceased’s wishes, are acting inappropriately, or stealing from the estate. The biggest factor in probate litigation is faulty communication.
4. Know the attorney handling the estate.
The decision of which attorney to handle the estate should be discussed during the meeting with the other heirs. It is not uncommon for the attorney selected to have worked with the deceased and written their will. The attorney handling the estate will work with the personal representative to follow the instructions in the will and close the estate. While the attorney works primarily with the personal representative, an heir can also communicate with the attorney to get answers to their questions. An heir should direct their question to the personal representative first, but if they feel the questions are unanswered or there is a communication breakdown it is appropriate to reach out to the attorney with their questions. The attorney will then talk with the personal representatives about the inquiries and should encourage the personal representative to communicate with all heirs.
They are supposed to work with the personal representative to make sure the lost loved one’s wishes are fulfilled and in the best interests of the various heirs. But at the end of the day, they represent the estate’s interests, and not an individual heir. An heir’s interest can be different or, in conflict, with the estate’s interest.
5. Consider hiring your own attorney.
There are several reasons why hiring your own attorney may be in your interest. These include, but are not limited to: A. You cannot communicate with the personal representative. .B. The personal representative is taking actions that are not in the best interest of the heirs. C. The personal representative is not communicating with you. D. You do not believe the will reflects the deceased’s true wishes. E. You believe the deceased lacked mental capacity to sign the will. F. You believe the deceased was under the undue influence of another individual when they made the will. These are only some of the reasons why you should hire your own attorney. Sometimes hiring your own attorney ensures your interests are represented and protected. It may also be instrumental in getting answers to your questions about the estate. If you have questions about a loved one’s estate or about whether you need an attorney to represent your interest, please feel free to contact Nilson Brand Law to discuss possible legal steps to ensure your interest is protected.