Probate is the court administration of the assets of the person who died. Probate is meant to protect both the person who administers the estate – called the personal representative or executor – and the beneficiaries – the people or organizations who are receiving the assets. The personal representative is responsible for:
- Collecting the deceased’s assets;
- Confirming and paying outstanding debts;
- Reporting the assets and any payments to the court;
- Making post-mortem income and estate tax planning decisions, such as disclaimers;
- Authorizing and preparing valuations of the estate’s property, and any special valuation that may apply;
- Preparing final tax returns for the deceased, the estate and any estate or inheritance taxes due to the I.R.S or the state; and
- Distributing the deceased’s assets to the beneficiaries per the terms of the deceased’s will
In addition, the personal presentative or trustee must communicate with and answer questions from the beneficiaries.
The probate process can be time consuming, involve many unfamiliar details, paperwork and reports to the court, and may be very stressful – particularly after the death of a loved one.
I can assist with you by handling the whole probate process, or advise you on handling selected parts of the process. This can include advice about the proper handling of an estate, collecting the assets, preparation of tax documents or answering specific questions about any step in the process. My goal is to provide the services you want, effectively and efficiently, to meet the goals in the decedent’s estate planning.
A decedent may own his or her assets through a revocable trust, also called a living trust, or the assets are owned by an irrevocable trust created during the decedent’s lifetime. The trustee has duties similar to a personal representative, but may be more active in investing and conserving the assets and evaluating the needs of beneficiaries before making distributions to them. Trusts can also require ongoing administration because of the terms of the trust. While usually routine, these transactions require the trustee to protect the interests of the beneficiaries and protect the assets of the trust. Most trustees may have a general idea of his or her responsibilities, but may need advice on the legal requirements for administering a trust and help with fulfilling many of the responsibilities he or she may have. I can help with advice on general matters of the trust, administration of the trust or its tax matters, or represent the trustee’s or beneficiary’s interests in a dispute.
There are a variety of reasons that a beneficiary is not satisfied with the distribution of assets in a will, or someone may believe they should have received a distribution. If they decide to challenge the will, a personal representative will have to defend the estate.
The two main reasons for challenging a will are the incapacity of the deceased, or undue influence. Incapacity means that the deceased did not have the mental ability to make a will. Undue influence is when one or several people controlled and influenced the deceased at the time he or she signed the will, and the terms of the distribution were not what the deceased person wanted.
If you have any questions about the capacity or the deceased to make a will, or whether there was undue influence on the decedent, you need to discuss your concerns as soon as possible in order to challenge a will. I can assist with either the defense of or challenge to a will, and will advise you about the merits of the case.
Mediation is a confidential process in which a trained mediator acts as a neutral person to assist with communication between disagreeing parties, and help them in reaching a mutually acceptable resolution of all or part of their dispute. A mediator is not the decision-maker and does not resolve the dispute — the parties do. This means that the parties have more control of the process, and the outcome. A mediator is often able to more fully explore the parties’ underlying interests, needs and priorities, including emotional and familial issues. Mediation is a flexible, less formal process that may reduce the time and costs that come with formal court hearing.
Mediation may be particularly effective when family members have a dispute or when emotions are getting in the way of resolution. An effective mediator can hear the parties and help them communicate with each other in a constructive manner. I am a certified mediator who can help you resolve your dispute in a non-confrontational manner with less expense and more control.