In the ideal world, when a loved one passes away, you’d deposit his or her valid will with the court and sail through probate—which would end with all assets quickly distributed according to the person’s wishes.
But problems sometimes creep into the process, adding unexpected issues and delays.
Here are some common monkey wrenches that can turn up during the probate process:
- Someone challenges the will. Whether they’re cut out entirely or simply feel they’re not getting a fair deal, anyone can sue in court to invalidate the will, alleging that the person wasn’t competent when he or she signed it, or even that a newer will exists and must be found. (Fortunately, getting a judge to go along with this is a long shot.) Although this doesn’t happen, when it does, it can add a great deal of time and money to the process. Sometimes, it pays to negotiate with the person challenging the will to try to avoid a drawn-out court battle.
- The person named as personal representative either doesn’t want to or is ineligible to serve. Shepherding an estate through the probate process is time-consuming. Occasionally, the person named PR decides they don’t want to do it (even though they are compensated from the proceeds of the estate). Even more frequently, especially in South Florida where people have good friends in the state where they used to live, the person named in the will as PR doesn’t fit within Florida guidelines, which says a PR can live outside of Florida only if he or she is a relative. (Read more about the responsibilities of a PR here.) In these cases, the attorney has to go to court to get someone else appointed.
- The PR has trouble finding all the assets. Whether it’s a safety deposit box no one can locate or questions about whether all bank and stock accounts have been identified, questions can arise about whether the PR has found all of the assets. This is even more likely now that people get statements from banks and brokers emailed to them; previously, the PR could watch the mail to see what comes to the decedent.
- Not everyone wants to sell the home. The parents leave their home to their three children equally, but only two of them want to sell. This scenario has played out in my practice more times than I can count. While the PR can sign a listing agreement and, with the judge’s okay, sell the home, this is often a tricky emotional situation. (Homestead property in Florida falls outside the probate.) In one recent case, one of the grown children was living in the home and threatened not to move out even if it were sold. These situations require careful negotiations between all parties.
- The PR doesn’t do his or her job properly. The court calls the PR a “fiduciary,” which means the law requires him or her to carefully manage the financial assets. If other beneficiaries don’t believe the person is doing so, they may challenge the PR and make a damage claim against him or her. It is incumbent on the PR to take this responsibility seriously and to keep other beneficiaries informed as the process goes on.
If you would like to speak with an experienced probate attorney in South Florida, contact the Law Office of Gary Landau for a FREE legal consultation at 954-979-6566 or by email. Attorney Gary Landau personally returns all calls and emails to him.