It's difficult enough when someone you are close to passes away, but far worse if for some reason or another, they've left you out of their will. Be it a family member or someone related by marriage, you're hurt, confused and need to know why this omission happened. Moreover, you want to know if you'd still be entitled to some part of the estate, even though you were not specified as a recipient in the will. Here's how to sort out this heart-breaking scenario.
1. Try Not To Get Angry
Despite feeling like you've been personally slighted by the departed, anger will get you nowhere. It's important to exercise restraint, contemplate your options with a clear head and still allow yourself to go through the grieving process. Especially to others planning the services for the lost loved one, your anger would likely be perceived as self-serving, causing them to be less helpful or cooperative, if they're able. Keep your negative emotions in check and go along with the services.
2. Speak To The People Closest To The Departed
In private, you could gently bring up the subject of having been left out of the will. Perhaps there's something you're not privy to and such a conversion could prove enlightening. More than likely, the people closest to the departed will be as confused as you are, if, in fact, you and the person who passed away were as close as you believe.
3. Consider Your Legal Relationship With The Departed
If you're a close blood relative or related by marriage, you may have solid grounds on which to take some sort of action to inherit some of the estate. If you were only close friends and the estate, in its entirety, was left to living relatives, you may not have any claim from a legal perspective; however, being related puts you in a good position to stake a legitimate claim.
4. Hire A Probate Attorney
Having established yourself as a relative or reasonable claimant, you're going to need a lawyer. Talking to a probate attorney, who specializes in matters of wills and trusts, including administration of them, estate planning, power of attorney, affidavits of death and so forth, you'll get a more precise idea of whether or not you can legally proceed with a claim against the estate in question, if that's what you want.
5. Ask The Lawyer About Mediation
Out of all your options, mediation may be the most viable. It can avoid the time and costs associated of going through the court system and it may be a kinder and gentler way of approaching the rest of the family. During mediation, information will be passed between the parties, who will then weigh the implications of that information and possibly, come to some type of agreement. Your probate attorney can tell you if mediation is the route to take, especially if they think mediation might be ordered by a judge at some point in the proceedings.
6. Consider Contesting The Will
Especially if you and your lawyer made any remarkable discoveries during mediation or through other means, such as the deceased may have been unduly influenced by another party or maybe were not of sound mind when the will was composed, you could have a strong case for contesting the will. If the relatives of the deceased are shutting you out or refusing to reconsider, contesting the will may be the only way to obtain what you believe to be rightfully yours. Your lawyer will prepare you for contesting the will, which may involve a number of steps:
- Proving the will is valid and signed, according to state law.
- Proving testamentary capacity (being of sound mind and body) of the deceased.
- Ensuring no fraud was involved in the preparation of the will.
- Determining that you have legal standing to contest.
- Abiding by the time limits (to contest) set by state law.
There are many variables that can affect your ability to take legal action, making the advice of a probate attorney essential.
7. While You Have A Probate Lawyer On Hand, Look At Your Own Will
Because you know what it's like to be unfairly slighted by a last will and testament, while you have access to your probate lawyer, go over your own affairs and make sure you aren't inflicting this same pain and confusion on someone in your life. Even leaving someone a small token of the estate, accompanied by a few compassionate words, could really help someone feel appreciated and included. You don't want anyone you care about to have to go through the emotional and legal struggles you now face, due to indiscretions in a will and you'll feel more at ease knowing your real estate and other assets are distributed to those you really want to have them.
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