Probate courts are a special court division that handles matters related to the settlement and distribution of a decedent’s estate, whether he or she had a Will (Last Will and Testament) or passed away without a Will (intestate). Probate courts will also handle disputes that may arise relating to trusts, whether created during the settlor’s (the person who funded and created the trust) lifetime or after his or her death (although if there are no disputes, traditionally a trust matter would not go through probate court). Additionally, probate courts have jurisdiction over minor child and incapacitated adult guardianship decisions, as a legal guardian is often appointed to care for a child or incapacitated adult’s estate and financial needs if they are unable to do so.
While most Wills are submitted to the Probate court, sometimes called “being probated”, to oversee the distribution process, there are occasions when Wills may be contested for a number of reasons. Some Will contests may arise if there is more than one Will, a previous Will was not appropriately revoked, the rules regarding execution of a Will were not followed, there is concern the testator (the person who made the Will) did not have the mental capacity to do so or was under duress, etc. Unfortunately when these issues arise, the court must consider the evidence and make a decision whether the Will, or parts of the Will, are valid, if there is another Will that is valid, or settle disputes regarding language and interpretation thereof of the Will.
When you lose a loved one, even if he or she left a Will or other instructions, it is inherently an emotional and complicated time trying to honor his or her wishes, especially if the process creates disagreements within the family. Learning the legal process, including the ins and outs of carrying out your loved one’s directives, and distributing his or her property can be a daunting task, all the while as you are still grieving from your loss. If you feel the probate process is confusing and do not know where to turn, at Schmeltzer & Bostic, we will walk you through the important steps to make the probate process as smooth as possible and ease your stress so that you have the time to focus on your family and healing after losing your loved one.