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Follow The Steps…How To Manage A California Probate Without Family Hostility.

How Can I Go Through Probate With My Family Without Things Getting Hostile? That all depends on what you mean by “go through probate.”  If you are referring to the probate of a Will (or the administration of an estate without a Will), then you may be able to get through the process by simply sticking to the rules.  That’s not to say that everyone will get along, but it at least the rules provides some guidance on how you should operate.

Probate is rarely a fun process because it takes court oversight to do just about anything, and the process takes much longer that people realize.  But the probate process does provide an orderly, rules based approach to handling every probate estate.  The more you stick to the rules as an executor or administrator, the easier your job will be because there is less room for complaint.  Not that people will stop complaining, but you can rest assured that their complaints will not result in you getting in trouble with the court.  If you are a beneficiary of an estate, then all you need to do is ensure the executor/administrator is following the rules.

For example, once probate is opened there are tasks that must be completed by the executor.  All creditor’s must be notified and an inventory and appraisal of all estate assets must be completed and filed with the court within four months.  If these tasks are completed promptly, then it lessens room for complaint.  The inventory and appraisal is particularly important because it allows all estate beneficiaries to see the list of estate assets, and their corresponding values.

Open Communication During Probate

The key to success in any probate is having open communication.  This can be difficult when people are mad at each other, but the more communication that is provided by the executor to the beneficiaries, the better.  This can be hard to remember because as the executor/administrator, you are busy getting things done for the estate, talking to the attorney, the appraiser, the financial people, maybe the real estate broker.  It takes a lot of time and coordination.  It is easy to forget that the beneficiaries are not in on all this work and communication unless you provide them with updates.  Even though the law says the estate assets do NOT belong to the beneficiaries until the assets are distributed to them, the beneficiaries always view the estate property and being theirs.  The more you can include the beneficiaries in the process of the probate administration, the fewer complaints you will have.

Furthermore, it never hurts to ask the beneficiaries for their opinion on what should be done with estate assets.  The beneficiaries really have no say on how the estate is managed—that’s up to the executor/administrator exclusively.  But everyone likes to be included in the decision making process when possible.  Even if you ultimately do not follow the wishes of a beneficiary, asking for their opinion can be an important tool for avoiding hostility.

Ask the Court for Help

If all else fails, ask the court for help.  Executors always have to the right to file a petition for instructions with the court to ask for guidance on what action should be taken, or not taken, in any situation.  This is especially helpful when various beneficiaries disagree on the proper action.  By bringing a petition for instructions you can allow the beneficiaries to appear in court and voice their views of the situation.  Once the court rules on the correct course of action, the executor can take that action without fear of a later lawsuit from the beneficiaries.  It also shifts the focus from the executor to the court for purposes of the action taken, which can be easier for beneficiaries to accept.

The executor can also use a notice of proposed action before making a final decision on a given course of conduct.  The notice of proposed action informs all beneficiaries of the desired action the executor would like to take and gives the beneficiaries a chance to object if they disagree.  If any one beneficiary objects in writing, then the executor can bring the matter before the court to decide.  If no one objects, then the executor can take action without fear of a later lawsuit against the executor.

The bottom line: every executor should follow the rules of probate as closely as possible, act promptly, keep beneficiaries informed, and ask for court help whenever needed.  By follow these simple steps you can decrease the chances of a hostile probate with relatives.  Of course, beneficiaries can still be mad at you, but at least you know you are following the letter of the law, and that’s all the law expects of you.