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"Avoiding probate" does not prevent probate litigation

Many residents of Saint Paul, Minnesota, may have heard about other estate planning techniques that do not require the writing or filing of a will. Many often try to sell people on the benefits of these alternative techniques by telling them that they will help a person's family "avoid probate" after they are dead and gone.

While it may be true that there are ways to "avoid probate," strictly speaking, very few, if any, estate planning techniques can altogether guarantee that a family will not have to undergo a prolonged and potentially expensive court battle over a person's estate. As an example, a case involving a public official in another state recently came to a head over the deeds to several rental properties that were owned by the official's father prior to his death. The man thought that his three full brothers and sisters and his three half-siblings would share the property equally with him. However, he discovered that one of his half-sisters had executed new documents that extinguished the ownership interest of both the public official and his full brothers and sisters.

The case has wound up in criminal court because the half-sister admittedly forged the public official's signature in order to get the property out of his name. Nonetheless, she claims that this amounts to a probate dispute or civil case because she only did as her deceased father instructed her, as they were the father's properties to give.

This case is an example to Minnesota residents showing that just because one chooses to use deeds, stocks, trusts or other estate planning device to avoid and making or probating a will, it does not mean that there will not be estate litigation or disputes relating to an inheritance. When such disputes arise, a family may to speak with an attorney experienced in resolving estate litigation efficiently and effectively.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Costa family inheritance case in court," Paula Reed Ward, Jan. 13, 2014

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