You May Have to Fight For Your Inheritance
by Spokane Probate Attorney, Steven Schneider
After a loved one dies, it can be very painful when the heirs can’t agree on how the estate should be distributed. Often, if there is a will, it may simply divide “the estate” by the number of heirs. Depending on how joint bank accounts between the decedent and one or two heirs are held, those funds may not even become part of the estate. Many people don’t know this. Things like family heirlooms, furniture, silver, etc. are most often not addressed at all, except lumped together as ‘residue’ of the estate. As a Spokane probate attorney, I council my clients about these issues others may miss.
Dividing an estate can an emotional and hurtful time, not only because families are actively grieving, but also because:
- Some of the items being distributed may hold intense sentimental value to more than one family member.
- Some family members may feel they are owed a greater portion of the estate because they were the primary caregiver while others feel that caregiving is an act of love, not a reason to receive more in the estate.
- The person named executor or personal representative in the will can make all the decisions about how the “estate” is handled prior to the distribution stated in the will, even though others disagree on their method.
- Some heirs feel they are not given their fair share because they lived far away, didn’t have as much contact with the decedent or they feel another of the heirs was able to disparage them and have undue influence over the terms of the will.
- One sibling or caretaker has controlled access and communication with parents, often for years, and the other heirs feel excluded.
- Sometimes, heirs resent the family member named as executor, especially if the executor charges the estate for their time spent on administration, even though it is legal.
If any of this publication is alarming to you, please contact me so that I can share with you my expertise:
- At the time you or your loved one are writing your wills
- When, as an executor, you need to open a probate
- If you are not an executor, but you feel as if there is something not going right in the probate, or feel that the executor is not following the law.
Many times I can prevent future problems or I can help you work through probate without litigation and help to create an understanding and insight between heirs. As a Spokane probate attorney, I feel it is best if families can come through this process in better shape than when they started.
How Estate Planning and Probates Work
- Without a will, the law of the State in which the person lived determines who receives their property by laws of ‘intestate succession.’ Generally, State laws follow a common sense pattern. In Washington for example, first, one-half goes to the surviving spouse and one-half to children; if there is no spouse, then to the children equally; grandchildren take the parents portion if the parent is deceased.
- If there is a Will, however, it must be produced and filed in the court and a Personal Representative appointed. It’s usually a spouse or child named in the Will. These are meant as protections for the heirs, but, in most cases, the court does not oversee the actions of the Personal Representative.
- “Non-intervention” probates are overwhelmingly the most common type of probate, created to avoid court delays and overcrowding. If the estate is solvent, the Personal Representative has complete control of the Estate without court supervision. The court will only intervene if someone brings a dispute to the court by filing a Petition.
Watch for my next blog, You Do Have Rights as an Heir.