True Or False: The Early Bird Gets The Estate
Technically, you don’t have to go through probate after a family member dies. Even if the decedent was a stickler for punctuality, he or she is not there to complain about you being late in administering the estate. Some families open a deceased family member’s estate for probate years after the decedent’s death. It is perfectly legal to do this, and the same rules about inheritance apply as if the estate had been opened just a few weeks after the decedent died, but it is somewhat harder to locate all of the decedent’s property. Dealing with the major administrative task which is probate is plenty stressful; people mourn their deceased relatives in different ways, but even professional accountants do not choose to honor the dead by filing tax returns. The fact that, if you don’t open the estate for probate, someone else can, is enough to make your bad mood worse, but it probably does not make you feel any less overwhelmed by the prospect of being in charge of someone’s estate. If you know that you should administer a deceased family member’s estate, but you don’t know where to begin, contact an Orlando estate planning lawyer.
A Cautionary Tale About Reading Probate Documents Carefully
A case decided by the Florida courts shows what can go wrong when surviving relatives do not act quickly to administer a recently deceased family member’s estate. The decedent, James, had been married to his wife Agnes for six years when he died. In addition to the young daughter he shared with Agnes, James also had an adult daughter from his first marriage.
James’s death certificate listed his marital status as divorced, but he and Agnes were married at the time of his death, and neither spouse had filed for divorce. Agnes did not attempt to get the court to correct the death certificate; she may not have even noticed the error.
Eight years after James died, his older daughter opened the estate for probate, claiming to be the decedent’s only surviving heir. She apparently did this on the advice of an unclaimed property firm that did not find out that James was survived by two other relatives who were entitled to inherit under the laws of intestate succession. The probate court awarded James’s entire estate to her, so she inherited about $33,000.
Agnes challenged this award and petitioned the court to reopen the estate. It did, and it awarded 50 percent of the estate to Agnes and 25 percent to each of James’s daughters. It also ordered the unclaimed property firm to return its commission to James’s estate, which it did. This was not the end of the legal battles, though, as Agnes later sued the unclaimed property firm.
Contact Gierach and Gierach About Confusion in Probate
An estate planning lawyer can help you resolve situations where family members have made requests of the probate court without first doing their due diligence. Contact Gierach and Gierach, P.A. in Orlando, Florida to discuss your case.