When someone dies, assets are distributed to beneficiaries named in a will or trust. The probate court oversees this process, validates the will or trust, then directs executors and trustees to gather and distribute assets laid out in the will or trust. Finally, the executors and trustees are legally required to notify all listed beneficiaries.
This process isn’t usually a difficult one. The rules are clearly laid out for executors and trustees. There are set time limits and specific requirements regarding information to be shared with beneficiaries.
Typically, executors should notify beneficiaries of the estate within three months after the will has been filed in probate court. Items listed will become a part of the public record once admitted to probate. If a beneficiary feels that there is a problem with the will or that they are not receiving all they are entitled to under the will, they can obtain a copy of the will from the probate court for review.
There is no specific notification requirement if assets are not included in the will and not part of probate.
Upon the passing of the person who created the trust (known as the settlor), the trustee is legally required to notify all beneficiaries within 60 days. This notification must include:
If the beneficiary feels that the copy of the terms provided is not accurate, or if the trustee refuses to provide a copy, they should contact an attorney with estate experience as soon as possible. Generally, beneficiaries only have 120 days from the date of notification to contest a trust.
Once a will is filed with the probate court, it becomes a matter of public record. Therefore, beneficiaries should be able to obtain a copy of the complete will from the court.
If someone learns they are a beneficiary of a trust but were not notified, they should promptly obtain an estate attorney’s services. An estate attorney can write a letter to the deceased’s trustee asking for the required notification and a copy of the trust documents.
Suppose the trustee still does not provide formal notification and documentation. In that case, the estate attorney can then file a probate court petition to compel the trustee to follow the rules and regulations for delivering information. Should the trustee continue to fail to provide the needed documentation, that can become grounds to have the trustee removed and replaced.
In all cases, it’s essential to remain civil and not give the trustee any reason not to be communicative. Confrontational behavior and abusive language will not help the situation.
Should the trustee continue to be obstinate, the best court of action is to have an attorney handle all communication. A probate lawyer can function as an objective advisor and advise the beneficiary on how to best proceed and manage communications.
Failing that, an attorney can then file a petition in probate court. This will allow beneficiary access to subpoenas, document demands, depositions, and other discovery devices. If the trustee still refuses to cooperate, a filed petition in probate court will also allow direct access to relevant financial information from banks or brokerage firms.
An individual’s passing is never easy, and estate and trust matters can be complicated. Emotions can run high. Deadlines might be missed. Disputes could arise.
The best thing you can do is have a qualified and experienced estate attorney on your side to answer questions, file paperwork, and deal with the probate court.
The experienced attorneys at Heban, Murphree & Lewandowski, LLC are standing by, ready to answer your questions and guide you through the process from beginning to end. Contact us for a free evaluation, or call us at (419) 662-3100 to discuss your legal options!