When Probate Law Gets Ugly

Probate is legal jargon for a process that falls under estate planning procedures, and can lead to unnecessary confusion. Estate planning is the process of literally planning for what will happen to anyone’s assets upon his or her death, while probate is the process under which that planning is recognized. How one plans for the division of his or her assets helps determine how easily those assets will in actuality be divided, and probate laws can of course affect how simple or complicated the probate process can be. It isn’t for the faint of heart, and those in the process of planning for what happens to their assets upon death are advised to seek the knowledgeable counsel of estate planning lawyers.

Then again, the probate process can be murky no matter what.

In one gruesome example of probate law gone wrong, Katherine Saintil-Brown and her daughter were charged with negligent homicide after Katherine’s own elderly mother died under wretched conditions. That didn’t stop Katherine from accusing her sister, Brenda Merrill, of improperly handling their mother’s estate. That might seem irrelevant under the circumstances, but some people carry grudges quite a long way.

Katherine was originally the estate administrator, but was eventually evicted from the important position before Brenda stepped in to continue the obligations required of the role.

Katherine asked the probate court for money after saying she opened a safety deposit box and hired a lawyer during the time she worked as administrator on behalf of their mother. Brenda rightly asked for documentary proof of the expenses incurred. Naturally the probate court judge denied Katherine’s request to use estate funds for her own legal expenses, but the entire battle shows the need for proper foresight and planning in complex and developing situations.

It is especially important that the person whose assets will eventually be divided finds a responsible administrator or personal representative to help carry out the duties required, as they can be quite burdensome. Some of the duties required include the opening of a checking account for the estate (for tax purposes), asset appraisal, inventory, and evaluation of creditor claims. After death, the list of organizations that require notification is extensive. Social security, banks, utilities companies, and credit card companies all need to be notified as quickly as possible.

It’s also important to understand that probate can be a time-consuming process. Although most estates require just under a year in order to process, they can drag on much longer depending on the complexities of bigger estates.

Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn’t know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.