We love getting your questions! After Erica’s last blog post “The power struggle between siblings in probate is real,” we received the following question. We hope Erica’s response helps readers who have similar questions!
My dad passed away and my sister is the personal representative. The probate is opened, but she won’t give us all the information. What about scheduling depositions and demanding documents? Can I do that?
Dear Lingering Questions,
Most probate estates are administered informally by filing documents with the court. You don’t actually “go to court.” Instead, the personal representative files documents with the court. As the documents come in, the court staff checks the boxes checking that all steps are completed. Once all boxes are checked, they certify that all steps were completed and administration is closed.
Depositions and formal demands for documents are types of formal discovery that require litigation. You have to sue your sister to get the information you’re looking for. The mechanics of this would be to file a petition or a complaint against your sister, but there is much more to consider. For most people facing this question, we consider:
- The information. Write down what information you want and make sure you’re entitled to it. Recently, I’ve seen beneficiaries asking for information that they are entitled to eventually, but they want it faster than they are entitled to receive it. It takes time to work through the legal system, which is why these deadlines are provided. Understandably, you’re trying to get this information so your sibling doesn’t steal your inheritance. Though, the process will be difficult for you if you accuse your sibling of wrongdoing prematurely.
- The relationship. Do you want a relationship with your sister in the future? If so, think twice before suing her. While you have legal rights, enforcing them has real-life consequences. Most people don’t take being sued as “just business.” They take it as an unforgivable assault to be sued, especially by a sibling.
- The expense. As a beneficiary, you have to use your own money to sue your sister. Your sister will likely use the estate’s money to defend herself (reducing your inheritance). Legal fees are rarely reimbursed by a wrongdoer. This does create a power disparity that puts the beneficiary at a financial disadvantage that must be considered, especially if finances are tight.
- The circumstances. We talk about burnout in the context of work and productivity, but it affects every area of your life. Burnout doesn’t go away if a parent dies and a person was appointed personal representative. It’s a big job, and many accept it out of guilt or obligation rather than having a real capacity to take the extra work. Consider whether a hard conversation about being overextended is a good first step.
Considering alternatives and deciding whether to sue a sibling is perfect for coaching (I’ve noticed it’s one of the most frequent problems that shows up in coaching). If you need help navigating tricky situations with your siblings and probate, Taproot is here to help! Call us at 906-284-8426 or check out our website for more details about coaching and Make-it-Legal Services!