A probate court's role is to provide a fair and legal forum should there be any disputes over a person's will or resulting estate. But who can be involved in those disputes? Can you file a claim in probate court over a will? And if not, who can or must? Here's what you need to know about legal standing in probate court.
What Is Legal Standing?
The civil court system is designed to be open to all Americans equally. But that doesn't necessarily mean that just anyone can file a lawsuit. The party or parties must have what is known as standing, or eligibility to bring a lawsuit. In most cases, standing is determined by whether or not the party would be or has been harmed by the other party or the issue at hand.
If there is no definable harm, the person cannot just sue for the fun of it. They may not like the terms of the will or feel that it's unfair to others, but they must remain an observer.
Who Can Be Involved In Litigation?
Who has legal standing to sue about probate issues? The party must have been harmed by what the potential defendant has done or would be harmed if the court takes no action. This includes heirs, spouses, immediate family members, other parties named in the will, trusts, executors, and even creditors of the estate. How might this work?
Will contests are some of the most common probate litigation. A party may have good reason to believe that the will should be considered invalid. Any party named in that will has standing, as does the executor of the estate charged with administering it. A lender who would be paid from the estate also has standing because they may be harmed financially if the will is declared invalid (or validated).
In addition, though, parties who aren't named in the will have standing. Why? Perhaps different family members — such as siblings, cousins, or estranged adult children — would stand to inherit if the will is invalidated. This may be due to the existence of an earlier will or the state's intestate inheritance rules which would take over if there is no will. These parties could also be harmed if the court doesn't make a judgment.
Where Can You Learn More?
Do you fall into a category that has standing to sue in probate court? And if you don't, can you still facilitate a lawsuit by a party that does have standing? Find out by meeting with an estate litigation attorney in your state today.