Taking care of an estate is hard enough without someone trying to challenge each of your actions in probate court. Thankfully, there are steps that you can take that will help limit the risk of an unnecessary challenge.
Careful estate administration, understanding of New York probate laws and clear communication with family members can all go a long way toward preventing conflict, confusion and unhappiness with how you handled the estate.
Verify the authenticity and legality of all estate documents
Allegations of fraud and claims of undue influence or lack of testamentary capacity are among the top reasons why people challenge an estate in court. Reviewing the last will or other estate planning documents carefully can help you determine when the testator created them and ensure there are no concerns about their validity.
Having a lawyer review the documents can also help ensure that everything included complies with New York probate laws. Once you know the documents are valid and the requests included in it are legal, you will be in a position to follow through with someone’s last wishes.
Keep a careful record of every step that you take
Did you empty out a checking account by paying off several credit cards and utility bills? Have you reached out to creditors and financial institutions to gain control over or access to accounts? Every step that you take requires documentation.
A careful trail of written reports and receipts will help validate what you use property for, such as repaying old debts. You will also then be able to use that documentation to show that you have upheld your duty to the estate as its executor.
Communicate clearly with people and try to make your steps transparent
Letting everyone in the family know what you are doing and when will help reduce conflict. People who don’t have realistic expectations about the estate may need some time to adjust their hopes to reality. The sooner you provide documents to family members about the estate and what they can expect from it, the more time they’ll have to accept the circumstances before you reach the point of distributing property directly to them.
Unfortunately, there are cases where despite your best intentions, other people take issue with how you manage the estate. Thankfully, the estate itself can help cover the cost of an attorney to represent you if you have to fight challenges to the estate plan or your performance as executor.