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The hidden truth of probate

The Hidden Costs of Closing an Estate warns to “beware of these not-so-obvious expenses associated with executing a will.”

In discussing beneficiaries’ ability to “make things a snap,” it says:

Who the beneficiaries are can make things a snap. Or they make cause you to snap. If you have a group of like-minded, reasonable adults, your settlement paperwork costs are probably going to be “fairly simple and inexpensive because all of the beneficiaries can sign off on the accounting … without a hearing or judicial invention,” says Alyssa DiRusso, a law professor who teaches courses in estates, trusts and wills at Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham, Ala.

But all bets are off if a beneficiary wannabe objects to being excluded from the will. “They have a right to object,” Bollaci says. “Will contests can cost tens of thousands of dollars and can drag on for months and years. Frequently, accountants are called in at great expense.”

This column comes closer to addressing real probate abuse than most ever do, but readers would be better served to understand that the “hidden cost” that can come from wannabe heirs/beneficiaries challenging an estate can be quite a contrived matter.

Fueled by their own right or wrong sense of entitlement or by just recognizing an opening, these wannabes can initiate an action with hopes of a legal shakedown yielding some degree of assets. Unscrupulous attorneys recognizing opportunity brought to the table by wannabes can also further corrupt the estate settlement process.

On the flip side, estate administrators or trustees can be dishonest in their dealings such that estate contests shouldn’t all be viewed as frivolous. Some times people have good reasons – damn good reasons – to challenge estate documents or an estate’s handling.

Bottom line. An estate represents a pot of money that multiple parties may seek to control. If everyone plays nice, things can indeed go smoothly. But realistically, varying combinations of wannabe heirs/beneficiaries, crooked lawyers and corrupt courts routinely work in concert employing a variety of means ultimately leading to dishonest diversions of assets from intended heirs/beneficiaries.

Estates of modest values ($1 million or less) are as desirable a target – sometimes moreso – as higher-dollar estates. All the estate planning documents in the world won’t necessarily stop complete and total disregard for a decedent’s wishes.

It’s going to get worse before it gets better as discussed in Probate abuse: the candid reality in Texas and beyond.

It’s grim, but that’s the hidden truth of probate.