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Tobin O'Conner & Ewing Practicality in Practice
  • ~ Washington DC Business Law Attorneys ~

How Much Effort Does The Personal Representative Of An Estate Have To Put Into Finding Long-Lost Relatives?

Planning

Estate planning lawyers make life a lot easier for the personal representatives of the estates of deceased people.  Under ideal circumstances, the decedent will have written a will that lists all the family members and other parties to whom the decedent wishes to bequeath their property.  It will also accurately list all of the decedent’s assets.  When someone dies without a will, the state of Maryland distributes the decedent’s property to the decedent’s closest surviving family members in the order determined by the laws of intestate succession, but the personal representatives of estates without a will do not always have an easy job.  It is the personal representative’s duty to find the heirs and the decedent’s assets and to distribute the assets to the heirs in accordance with the law.  Meanwhile, the personal representative also has a responsibility to settle the estate within a reasonable amount of time.  What do you do if you are the personal representative of the estate of someone who dies intestate, and long-lost family members show up and ask to reopen the estate for probate after it has already closed?  In short, you could have a legal dispute on your hands, but a probate lawyer can help.

When 15 Cousins You Never Knew About Ask You to Reopen the Estate

Lois never married or had children.  By the time she died in 2016, both of her parents and all of her grandparents, aunts, and uncles had already died.  The personal representative of her estate was a lawyer who had acted as her guardian when she was elderly and infirm.  As far as the personal representative knew, Lois’s only surviving relative was Emily, her first cousin on her mother’s side of the family.  Pursuant to his fiduciary duty to notify all interested persons, the personal representative notified Emily that the estate was open for probate.  Emily informed the personal representative that another deceased cousin of Lois and Emily’s had two surviving children, and the personal representative notified them of the probate proceedings too.

The personal representative also published a Notice to Unknown Heirs, pursuant to his fiduciary duty.  A lawyer from an estate research firm informed him that the decedent had 15 relatives on her father’s side who were heirs according to the laws of intestate succession.  (It is unclear which of them, if any, were the decedent’s first cousins.)  The personal representative asked the lawyer to furnish proof of the alleged heirs’ relationship to the decedent, but he did not.  After the estate had been open for ten months, the personal representative closed the estate and distributed Lois’s assets to Emily and her first cousins once removed.  The estate research firm petitioned the court to reopen the estate, accusing the personal representative of breach of fiduciary duty, but the probate court refused to reopen the estate; it reasoned that the personal representative had already done his due diligence.

Let Us Help You Today

A Washington DC probate lawyer can help you deal with unscrupulous estate research firms trying to claim money from estates in the name of very distant relatives. Contact Tobin, O’Connor & Ewing for help.

Resource:

scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=18343702821037317136&q=probate+stein&hl=en&as_sdt=4,21&as_ylo=2011&as_yhi=2021

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