My grandfather recently passed away. I believe he had a will and my aunt is the executor of the estate and is handling everything. I don’t trust her and my family is worried that she won’t fairly distribute the assets. What can we do?
The answer to your question depends on several factors including how your grandfather’s assets were titled, whether a will exists and, if so, whether it has been filed with the court.
If no will actually exists, your grandfather’s property would pass through what is called intestate succession. In other words, his closest heirs would receive the property. If your grandmother is still alive and they are married, she would receive half of the estate and the children and/or grandchildren would divide the rest according to standard rules.
If you are certain a will exists, it would be advisable to check with the court in the county where your grandfather resided and see if the will has been filed with the court. A will should be filed to preserve it even if probate is not anticipated.
Reviewing the will may give you a sense of whether your aunt is properly handling the estate. An attorney could be helpful in this process.
It is also possible that actual probate proceedings are being pursued. Probate refers to the court process of interpreting a will and distributing estate assets according to the terms of that will.
If the matter is in probate, there are a number of potential avenues to hold your aunt accountable. These possibilities range from submitting a demand in the estate to attempting to request full court supervision of the probate to requesting your aunt’s removal as executor.
It may be particularly beneficial to simply discuss your concerns with the attorney handling the probate if there is one.
If you are certain a will exists but don’t believe it has been filed with the court, it would be advisable to attempt to get it on file immediately. Generally, one has six months from the time of death to get a will on file.
A court can grant exceptions to this strict time requirement if the will is withheld or lost. Additionally, if a will is wrongfully withheld, the person withholding the will can be held liable to those persons or entities that should have received a distribution from the estate but did not because the will was not produced.
Finally, it merits noting that sometimes a majority of a decedent’s property passes outside of probate. For example, joint tenancy property (bank accounts or real estate are common examples) would pass to the survivor immediately on death. Life insurance or retirement accounts often pass outside of the control of the will through the use of a beneficiary designation to an individual.
Family tensions often result from the distribution of an estate. I hope that you are able to maintain the delicate balance of getting the information you need to resolve this situation while also keeping the peace in the family.