An important part of the probate process is when the personal representative gathers all the assets of the deceased person and organizes them for the court. The court then reviews the assets and debts of the estate and the named beneficiaries and assets are moved on so that they belong to the beneficiaries or to a trust set up for the purpose.
While this process can be time-consuming, and if you have the help of an attorney, fairly comprehensive, occasionally you will find a piece of property that was missed during probate. This can happen for a number of reasons, but the result is the same, a closed estate must be reopened to handle the situation.
What Causes Probate to Reopen?
While real estate is often the first type of property that comes to mind, probate would need to be reopened to handle any titled asset that is still in the name of the deceased and is not passed in another fashion. Vehicles, individual accounts, investment and retirement funds, business interests, and other types of personal property must all be handled by probate. If the property is jointly owned or already has a designated beneficiary, then the property passes without the need for probate.
In some circumstances, the courts may also reopen probate if a new creditor makes a claim against the estate, assuming the debt is both legitimate and timely or there was some issue with the way creditors were initially put on notice about the estate. Discovery of a new heir who was legitimately overlooked can also cause probate to reopen.
Having your assets well organized during lifetime can help avoid these problems. Assets can be placed into a managed trust, can be listed out in a document supplemental to your will, or can be organized in some other fashion so that your personal representative can easily find each piece. For less organized estates, attorneys can do a property search to ensure all titled property is identified, though these searches are less accurate since they may miss business interests, bank accounts, and other types of property that are not as easily searchable.
Fraud by the personal representative is another reason estates can be reopened and the newly reopened estate can then bring an action against the personal representative to try and correct the problems caused by fraud or mismanagement. Property that was not distributed according to the will, or a more recent valid will is discovered that clearly changes the way property should be distributed can also lead to re-opening and re-managing property.
Handling an estate that has multiple properties doesn’t need to be complicated, but pre-planning and organization can help ensure your loved ones don’t waste time and assets during probate. The estate team of lawyers from Dunn Law Firm can help by understanding your full financial picture and putting in place the right trust and estate structure for your goals and family. To learn more, reach out to the Dunn Law Firm by calling (435) 628-5405 to set up a free consultation today.