By Jenny Tsay, Esq.
Even if there’s a will in place, families may still end up fighting over an estate after a loved one passes.
While most people think that the only way to settle estate battles is to go to probate court, there are ways to quash an estate battle without resorting to probate.
Here are five legal tips to consider if you’re fighting over an estate.
Read the documents carefully. Sometimes estate battles can be avoided by simply re-reading the will or trust. It’s easy to miss key points of the legal document when you’re already grieving, but a second or third read through may clarify points of contention. Also, make sure that you’re reading the most recent, valid will. Many times people will change or redraft their wills during their lives and may forget to revoke the old wills. So be sure you’re looking at the version that’s lawfully executed.
Know your state’s inheritance laws. Relatives who are left out of the will but challenging their inheritance rights in court may be out of luck. Even if a person dies without a will, his or her state’s inheritance laws may prevent some family members from getting a part of their estate. If a will doesn’t mention children, for example, they may not have a legally protected right to inherit their deceased parent’s property—unless the omission was unintentional.
Consider out-of-court settlements. Fighting over an estate in probate court may take a while, so consider mediation or arbitration in order to settle disagreements. Mediation is an attempt to find common ground between the parties and come to a mutually agreed upon solution, but the decision in mediation isn’t binding by law. On the other hand, arbitration is similar to the adversarial procedure found in the courtroom, but it’s handled in a less formal setting and the arbitrator’s decision may be final.
Look for outside evidence of the deceased’s wishes. If an aspect of the deceased’s estate isn’t discussed in the will, look at statements the deceased made prior to death, like comments about funeral plans, to determine what the person’s wishes actually were.
Hire an attorney. If you’re still unable to settle an estate battle on your own, call an estate planning attorney to see what legal options you may have. The attorney can tell you if you’re eligible for inheritance or the best way to proceed.
These are just a few legal tips to consider when fighting over an estate, but if all else fails, a probate court can settle the issues.
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