Reopening an Estate Can Resolve Inheritance Disputes
Estate planning can prevent a lot of disputes over inheritance. Under the best circumstances, you can designate a beneficiary for each of your assets such that your estate does not even need to go through probate. Even if you are not able to do this, writing a will and being honest with your family about its contents makes probate a simple process. The probate of estates where there is no will or where the heirs distrust each other and disagree about what the decedent planned to bequeath to them or should have bequeathed to them take longer to settle, and when they do, some heirs might feel that they have been treated unfairly. In some cases, it is possible to reopen an estate when it has already closed. If you are an heir to an estate that has already settled, but there is still unfinished business related to the estate, contact a Florida probate lawyer about the possibility of reopening the estate.
When Is It Possible to Reopen an Estate?
Most estates stay closed permanently after they settle. If one of the following conditions is present, though, it might be necessary to reopen the estate to deal with unfinished business:
- Previously unknown assets – If you discover, after the estate settles that the decedent owned assets that were not accounted for or distributed during probate, reopening the estate might be the only way to pass these assets on to the appropriate heirs. If they are non-probate assets and the decedent named a beneficiary, then you do not need to reopen the estate to transfer them to the beneficiary.
- Previously unknown debts – Creditors will face an uphill battle if they try to reopen an estate to collect a debt. During the original probate, they have a fair chance to come forward to seek the repayment of debts the decedent owed them.
- Incorrectly distributed assets – If the assets were not distributed the way that the will indicated, you can correct this error by reopening the estate.
- Previously unknown will – The probate process includes opportunities to challenge the will. If, after the estate settles, you discover a will that is more up-to-date or seems more correct than the one executed during the original probate of the estate, you may be able to reopen the estate to execute the provisions of this new will.
- Previously unknown heir – During probate, the personal representative of the estate must make a reasonable effort to locate the heirs named in the will. If they cannot be located, it is possible to close the estate without giving them their inheritance. If you locate them after the estate has settled, you must reopen the estate.
Reopening an estate only happens when there is some dispute over the estate. Hiring a probate attorney, whether you are the original personal representative of the estate or a previously unaccounted for heir, is the best way to resolve matters efficiently.
Contact an Attorney for Help
Most probate cases are uncomplicated, but if there are ambiguities, you need a probate lawyer. Contact Clearwater probate attorney William Rambaum to discuss your questions.