Probate and estate administration are the processes through which estate assets are transferred after death. When probate avoidance planning has not been implemented prior to death, the state will require a probate court proceeding if the deceased was a resident or owned assets in the state. Probate can be supervised or unsupervised. In an unsupervised probate, the appointed estate administrator manages assets, pays any debts, files required tax returns and various court documents, and distributes the estate assets. However, the court may at any time require the process to be supervised (usually when someone expresses concern about the estate administration). In a supervised probate, the probate judge must approve every detail of the estate administration.
Because probate can be a lengthy, costly and public process, many people choose to avoid it. There are a number of legal strategies that will allow you to pass property to another person after death, without going through probate.
A properly drafted and funded trust will generally avoid probate. The trust need not be filed with the probate court. Nonetheless, there are still steps necessary to administer the trust: beneficiaries must be contacted; assets must be gathered, valued and managed; potential creditors must be notified; debts, taxes and final expenses must be paid; and, ultimately, any remaining income and assets must be distributed in compliance with the trust terms. Successor trustees often lack the time, resources or knowledge to personally administer the trust, and therefore may call upon legal, accounting and investment professionals for assistance. Oftentimes, a corporate fiduciary (e.g., a trust company) is an excellent alternative to relying solely on busy family members or friends to serve as trustee. We can help your successor trustee(s) deal with the complexities of administering your trust. Please call our office and we will be happy to schedule a consultation, whether or not our office has drafted the original trust.
Unfortunately, families sometimes fight or disputes arise in administering a will or trust. We have the capability and experience to handle estate and trust litigation. In our experience, estate and trust litigation is not something to dabble in as fiduciary law and probate procedure may does not track the law and process that applies in many commercial litigation contexts. We represent personal representatives and trustees in will and trust contests and in administration. We have experience mediating cases, pushing through discovery, and trying cases where the parties are unable to agree on a resolution otherwise. If you feel a personal representative or trustee has wronged you, or if you are a personal representative or trustee dealing with unreasonable demands of a beneficiary (or disinherited sibling, friend, or prior spouse), or if your spouse cut you out of his or her will or trust—please call us. We offer you a free consultation and, depending on the circumstances, may be able to offer you flexible fee arrangements.