Remaining Family Members Do Not Have To “Sign Off” On A Probate Estate

Estate Planning and Probate Q & AIn this post, I’d like to offer a short question and answer to a common misconception related to probating a family member’s estate.

Question: My cousin and I are the executors and sole beneficiaries of our grandfather’s estate. Do our remaining family members have to “sign off”?

Answer: No. The death of a family member is fraught with emotion, grief and confusion. After you’ve had a chance to grieve and the funeral or memorial ceremony has been performed, it’s time to focus on what needs to be done with any property your loved one left behind. Whether or not there is a will, certain requirements need to be followed when opening a probate estate.

Provide Notice To Potential Heirs

One of those requirements is to provide notice of the death to any known or named heirs. As potential heirs, they are entitled to challenge the validity of any will that has been submitted to the probate court. Notifying those with an interest in the estate allows them ample opportunity to challenge the will’s validity, or to petition the court to be named executor of the estate or guardian over the minor children.

Simply put, anyone with a potential interest looking to preserve that interest would then be warned that now is the time to act.

However, to ensure that a probate estate is not held hostage by potential heirs who fail to act within a reasonable amount of time after being notified of the death, statutes of limitations prevent heirs from coming forward beyond those time frames.

In Massachusetts, for example, under section 1-401(e) of the Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code, an objecting party has 30 days from the return date listed on the notice to file a written affidavit of objections with the court.

Provide Notice To Creditors

Another requirement of the probate process is that notice of the probate estate must be also be given to creditors of the deceased, as well as to unknown heirs and other potential heirs whose specific address or location might not be available. In this case, notice should be published in local newspapers. The probate court in the county where the deceased resided should be able to provide a listing of the publications where notice should be made.

As for heirs whose locations are not known, again, check with the probate court. The notice requirement may be satisfied by running the notice in a local publication in the locale where these heirs were last known to live, or in a county where you are reasonably certain of their whereabouts.

Conclusion

Assuming these requirements are met and those interested are given the opportunity to petition the court or to challenge any will, there is no requirement that any heir affirmatively “sign off” on the proceedings or specific directives spelled out in the will.

If notice is given in the proper manner to the persons and publications known and available, that should be enough to get the ball rolling.

Contact my office if you are a Massachusetts resident looking to review, update or create an estate plan.