Are Your Estranged Relatives Filing Objections In Probate Just To Mess With You?
Sometimes probate disputes are just a proxy for long-standing grudges between estranged family members. Genuine disagreements about the validity or intent of the deceased person’s will or other aspects of the deceased person’s estate plan can get mixed up with anger and grief over the decedent’s death and final illness. The law requires the personal representatives of estates to publish announcements about the opening of the estate for probate and to notify interested persons, that is, people who have evidence that the estate should pay them money. Of course, sometimes people abuse this process with frivolous litigation in order to deplete the value of the estate in order to reduce the amount the beneficiaries can receive when the estate settles, or else just to waste the time and energy of the personal representative. How you word your will and how you communicate with your relatives about your estate plan while you are alive can go a long way in preventing painful, expensive probate disputes. An estate planning lawyer can help you do this.
A Probate Dispute Over Non-Probate Assets
Frederik, Sr. was married twice; his first wife was the mother of his five children. His second wife was Kristina, to whom he was married for the last 20 years of his life. A few days after Christmas in 2003, Frederik, Sr. suffered a heart attack and remained in a coma for the rest of his life. Pursuant to Frederik’s Living Will and Health Care Power of Attorney, Kristina gave consent for the doctors to disconnect life support when they became certain that Frederik’s condition was terminal, and Frederik, Sr. died on January 11, 2014.
Frederik, Sr.’s will left $10,000 to each of his five children and the remainder of his estate to Kristina. He also left several non-probate assets to Kristina, namely his retirement accounts, bank accounts titled in both spouses’ names, and three real estate properties that the couple owned as tenants by the entirety. The decedent’s son, Frederik, Jr., filed a complaint during probate, alleging that Kristina had forged the will, as well as the documents relating to the decedent’s end-of-life care and the ones listing Kristina as a beneficiary of the non-probate assets. The court dismissed Frederik, Jr.’s complaint because he did not present compelling evidence that the documents were forged. As for the non-probate assets, the court reasoned that Frederik, Jr. had nothing to gain by these claims, making them frivolous litigation. Even if Frederik, Jr. persuaded the court that the documents related to the non-probate assets were forged, they would become the property of the estate, meaning that Kristina would inherit them, anyway. His share of the inheritance would be $10,000, no matter the outcome of his legal action.
Let Us Help You Today
Working with the Washington DC estate planning lawyers at Tobin, O’Connor & Ewing can help you protect the personal representative of your estate from nuisance litigation by disinherited relatives. Contact us today for help.