The aftermath of losing a loved one is never easy. In-fighting and disputes between family members and surviving loved ones of the deceased can make matters feel even more complicated. Tensions often run high when property and other assets are at stake. Thus, distributing the assets of a loved one can sometimes result in disputes between the deceased’s family members. So, what happens if there is sibling rivalry in probate?
Of course, the precise outcome of a sibling or other family rivalries in probate will vary from case to case. Nevertheless, it is important to have a basic understanding of what you can expect.
In this article, we’ll provide you with an overview of the process and how to navigate sibling disputes in probate.
When you have questions, give the probate litigation legal matters lawyers at Beller & Bustamante, P.L., a call to discuss your case and see what our team can do for you.
What Is Probate?
Probate is a court-supervised process for identifying the assets of the deceased party, paying his or her debts, and distributing the remaining assets to the decedent’s beneficiaries. The probate process is common and takes place after the death of the decedent and before the final distribution of their assets. Unfortunately, however, conflicts between brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, sons and daughters, and family generally, can make probate proceedings much more complex and difficult.
Importantly, the probate process applies only to probate assets. The term ‘probate assets’ refers to assets that the decedent owned in his or her name at the time of their death. Examples of probate assets include:
- Bank accounts in the decedent’s name;
- Life insurance policies payable to the decedent’s estate;
- Real estate titled in the decedent’s name; and
- Real estate titled in the name of the decedent and another person as tenants in common.
Assets owned by the decedent and another person jointly qualify as probate assets only if there is not a provision triggering automatic transfer at the decedent’s death. For example, if the deceased owned real estate with another person as joint tenants with the right of survivorship or as tenants by the entireties (which is reserved for married couples), the property doesn’t go into the decedent’s inheritable probate estate. Instead, it passes automatically to the surviving individual also named on the title.
What Happens if There Is Sibling Rivalry in Probate?
In an ideal world, these types of disputes would never arise in the first place. Unfortunately, there is always a possibility that family disputes will occur. Navigating family or sibling relationships in probate can be complicated, emotional, and expensive. Consequences of such disputes might include:
- Lengthier probate proceedings;
- Costly litigation as a result of the disputes;
- Reduction in available assets for distribution due to the cost of probate litigation;
- Uncertainty as to decisions regarding the administration, disposition of assets, and the decedent’s remains; and
- The need for the court to step in and take control.
While family disputes can’t always be avoided, there are certain things you can do in an attempt to prevent them from occurring. Speak with an experienced estate planning and probate legal practitioner today to discuss your options.
Does Having a Will Affect Probate Proceedings?
During probate proceedings, the Court admits the decedent’s will to probate and transfers ownership of the probate assets to the beneficiaries named in the will. If someone dies without a will, probate assets transfer to beneficiaries named under Florida probate law.
While there is a statutory process that governs how to distribute assets after someone’s passing, having a will in place before you pass away can be a great benefit. By creating a will, you can clearly delineate your wishes regarding the disposition of your property. Ultimately, this can go a long way toward preventing potential disputes between family members in the future.
Of course, having a will doesn’t necessarily guarantee that sibling and other family disputes will never arise. However, creating a comprehensive estate plan is one of the best ways to reduce the likelihood of such disputes in the future.
What Is a Personal Representative?
Additionally, a will typically nominates a personal representative, or what is called an executor in other states. This personal representative will have several responsibilities during the probate process. This personal representative can be either an individual or an entity. But what exactly is a personal representative?
Essentially, the personal representative is the party tasked with administering the decedent’s estate in the aftermath of their death. It is important to note, however, that Florida law imposes certain legal duties on the personal representative in the course of administering the decedent’s estate. For example, Florida requires personal representatives to:
- Publish a “Notice to Creditors” in the newspaper to notify potential creditors to file claims as required by law;
- Identify, gather, value, and safeguard the decedent’s probate assets;
- Conduct a diligent search to locate “known or reasonably ascertainable” creditors and notify them of the time limit for filing their claim;
- Object to improper claims by creditors and defend suits from such creditors;
- File tax returns and pay taxes;
- Hire professionals to help administer the estate;
- Pay expenses of probate administration;
- Distribute probate assets properly; and
- Close the estate.
If there is no will, or if for some reason the will does not designate a personal representative, the judge overseeing the probate proceedings will select the personal representative instead.
Dealing with Sibling Disputes in Probate?
If you are dealing with a sibling or other family dispute in probate, or are concerned that such a dispute could arise in the future, we want to help.
At Beller & Bustamante, P.L., we understand how deeply personal estate planning and probate matters can be. That’s why we’ll be there with you at every step along the way to make sure you feel cared for and well-represented. With decades of experiencing helping clients in need, we are confident that we have the experience and expertise you need for your case.
Have questions on how to move forward? Contact our probate litigation legal matters attorneys today to discuss your case and see what our team can do for you.