Sadly, I get these calls a lot. Typical scenarios are:
- You were a minor when one of your parents died. Now you are an adult and realize that you should have received your share of your deceased parent's estate when you turned 18, but it is nowhere to be found. Your other living parent denies the whole thing. Nobody else seems to know anything.
- A relative of yours has died with no will. You have done some research in the internet and believe that you stand to inherit a share of the decedent's estate. However, you live a great distance away from where the decedent had lived, and you don't know who is administering the decedent's estate. Or, you do know who is handling the decedent's estate, but he or she refuses to communicate with you.
- A relative of yours has died. When the deceased relative was living, he told you that you were in his will or trust, or maybe he promised to leave you a specific item. However, you do not have a copy of the will and you live a great distance away from where the decedent had lived, and you don't know who is administering the decedent's estate. Or, you do know who is handling the decedent's estate, but he or she refuses to communicate with you.
- After one your parent's died without a will, the living parent remarried. Then the living parent died, apparently leaving everything to his or her surviving spouse (your step-parent). You now realize you should have received a share of the estate of the first parent to die, but that never happened.
What should you do?
First and foremost, call a probate attorney who practices in the vicinity of the location where the decedent was domiciled (lived) when he or she passed. In other words, if you live in Yreka, California but the decedent died in Crossville, Tennessee, call a probate attorney in Crossville, Tennessee. Seriously, this is super important.
Why should you call an attorney right away?
Because time is of the essence. There are strict deadlines. If you miss a deadline, you are out of luck.
This is what a probate attorney can do for you:
- Check to see if a probate was ever filed for the decedent where one would expect a probate to be filed.
- If a probate was filed, determine whether it is too late to intervene on your behalf. If it is not too late to intervene on your behalf, the attorney can help you with doing so, to ensure that you receive your share.
- If a probate was filed but it is too late for you to intervene, determine what actually happened to the estate. If there was hanky panky the attorney can advise you as to whether there are any remedies directly against persons who may have lied to the court.
- If a probate was not filed, an attorney can help you get a probate started. The attorney can also help you hunt down assets to a limited extent. Sometimes you will need to hire an asset trace firm to locate assets.
- If a probate was not filed and it turns out that is because the decedent had a trust, an attorney can help you make demand on the trustee of the trust for a copy of the trust and for an accounting.
- If the trustee refuses, an attorney can help you file a petition for a court order forcing the trustee to provide a copy of the trust and provide an accounting.
- If it turns out the trustee has been stealing from the trust estate, an attorney can also help you go to court to get the trustee removed and replaced with a more worthy trustee, and the attorney can help you sue the trustee to have funds returned to the trust estate.
For almost every wrong there is a remedy, but you cannot just sit and wait and hope things work themselves out. If there are bad actors involved, those things will not work themselves out without some kind of intervention. If there is no intervention, the bad actors WILL eventually get away with their wrongdoings with the passage of time. YOU must take the bull by the horn and claim what is yours. Have faith in knowing that there are attorneys out there who have a lot of experience with these types of matters.