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PROBATE 6: Don’t head into probate court without an attorney.

 

July 2013, Deceased died at the age of 83 leaving all of his property to his revocable living trust pursuant to his will. Deceased was unmarried when he died; his daughter was his only child. In his will, he nominated his sister as the personal representative of his estate.

After he died, his sister accepted the appointment and became personal representative of the estate. According to a January 2017 notice of continued administration signed by his sister, the estate remained under continued administration because the assets of the Estate need to be distributed to the beneficiaries of the Estate and final income tax returns need to be filed. The daughter was identified as the only “interested person” on the above notice, and a copy of the notice was served on the daughter.

On March 2017, The daughter and her mother (who was also deceased’s former wife), representing themselves, filed a one-page petition on a court form that included order language at the bottom allowing the court to indicate that it was granting, denying, dismissing, or granting in part the petition; the petition was entitled “petition and order to remove personal representative.” The phrase “to remove personal representative” was handwritten on the form after the “petition and order” language on the form.

An appellant who proceeds in propria persona is generally held to the same standards as attorneys. Accordingly, a litigant who decides to proceed without counsel is bound by the burdens that accompany such election. An appellant may not merely announce a position and then leave it to this Court to discover and rationalize the basis for the appellant’s claims; nor may an appellant give an issue only cursory treatment with little or no citation of authority.

A hearing on was held on April  2017; the daughter was the only party to appear in court. After reading the petition language into the record, the probate court stated, “That doesn’t make sense. What…are you asking the Court to do?” The daughter indicated that she wanted the trust account to be closed because the sister had not responded to the daughter’s letters, expressed her concerns about suspicious transactions and activities related to the trust account, and stated that she wanted the sister to respond to her concerns. The probate court noted that the petition was for the removal of the personal representative, and the probate court asked the daughter who she wanted to serve as personal representative of the estate. The daughter provided what can best be characterized as an incomprehensible answer.

The probate court treated the petition as essentially requesting the removal of the sister as personal representative, and it explained that the request was being denied because appellants had presented no evidence to justify removing the personal representative. The probate court also stated: If an attorney brought this to me I would have to say counsel, this is making no sense, I can’t sign an order like this. This is totally an improper form. And because I would have to say that to an attorney I have to unfortunately say it to you.

Given the emotional nature of these disputes and their financial impact on all involved, it is critical that anyone involved in such a dispute retain highly qualified legal counsel. Probate court is complex and requires the attention of experienced and knowledgeable counsel. Our attorneys have the experience and legal know-how to protect your rights and interests. In addition to representing local clients, we have assisted many out-of-state clients who have required legal representation to resolve probate disputes here in Michigan. To schedule a free consultation with an experienced probate litigation lawyer at our firm, contact our law office in Plymouth, Michigan.

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