How do I find out what assets are in a probate estate?
With increasing frequency in Florida, friends and relatives of a loved one are left wondering what happened to the estate that they knew existed prior to death but apparently disappeared after the probate estate is opened and the last will and testament is admitted to probate. Often, the source of the confusion is communication between the family members and the decedent prior to death concerning an understanding of the content and value of the estate.
But what can you do when the loved one dies, a will is admitted to probate, and the friends and relatives who thought they were beneficiaries never hear a word or receive any notice or information regarding the assets of the estate and the particulars from the attorney administering the estate?
The answer lies within the remedies written into law for the family and friends of a deceased loved one. The first question to be answered is: are you an “interested person” in the estate to whom the Florida Probate Code grants certain rights? An “interested person” is defined by the Code as “any person who may reasonably be expected to be affected by the outcome of the particular proceeding involved.” Further, “the meaning, as it relates to particular persons, may vary from time to time and must be determined according to the particular purpose of, and matter involved in any proceedings.” Generally, when it comes to asking a court or estate fiduciary to produce information relating to the assets and information regarding an estate, blood relatives and persons who were named in prior last will and testaments are treated as “interested persons” and are entitled to ask questions about the estate and the missing assets.
How do you ask questions about the estate assets and who receives the inheritance under the will admitted to probate? The way is to issue discovery. Interrogatories, demand for document production, requests for admissions, are examples of discovery tools that are available to interested persons under Florida Probate Rule 5.080. Florida courts are not inclined to grant this access to estate information to creditors, but will allow interested persons in the estate to learn such things as: (1) what happened to a prior will in which the person was named as a beneficiary (2) what are the assets of the estate (3) where are the distributions going (4) who was nominated or appointed as personal representative (5) what does the will say and (6) what happened to the prior will(s).
The rules regarding discovery in probate to determine exactly who had the gold and how much is available for distribution have been expanded to include both adversary and non-adversary proceedings.