Forcing the Production of Information in Probate Litigation When You Have Been Disinherited

Can a disinherited person force the production of information necessary to substantiate the efforts required to pursue a challenge to a Will, beneficiary designation, or Trust?

Isolation and manipulation of a loved one by those who are intent on deriving benefits from an estate are frequent realities in estate litigation cases.  Undue influence, the process by which a person’s mind is subjugated so that the decision-making is actually that of the perpetrator, is almost always done behind closed doors.  The byproduct of isolation and conduct perpetrated in the dark is lack of information.  Family members are left with only questions and no answers.

In order to evaluate a case, the ability to gather information is critical.  It is common for family members to come to me with little to no information regarding the assets at issue or the mechanisms of disinheritance that were employed.  A skillful approach and carefully designed strategy can effectively put you in the information-gathering driver’s seat.

Cleveland Estate Litigation Attorneys of Reminger Co., LPA

There are many strategies that the trust litigation lawyers of Reminger have successfully employed to discover the full context of what occurred.  In appropriate circumstances, a firm letter directed to the alleged perpetrator of undue influence occasionally leads to the voluntary production of information.  Many perpetrators of undue influence, however, refuse to acknowledge the letter and some employ lawyers skilled in the art of obfuscation to thwart record-gathering attempts.  In those circumstances, either you have to employ court process or give up.  Some of the many options available to force the production of information are discussed below.

Removal Proceedings and Challenges to Estate Inventory

If an executor of the Will has been appointed and refuses to respond to questions, a disinherited heir can intervene into the administration of the estate and open a forum necessary to force discovery.  To that end, removal proceedings and challenges to the estate inventory have proven successful.  An executor can be removed from office, causing an independent fiduciary be put in place for the purpose of signing medical or financial release forms.  An action to challenge the probate inventory, if warranted, can also lead to the opportunity for meaningful discovery.

When assets have been transferred by probate avoidance techniques, such as via beneficiary designations, the recipient will often seek to avoid administration or refuse to produce a will.  Under those circumstances, after appropriate demand, Reminger’s estate litigation attorneys have successfully employed strategies that include filing a citation to probate the Will and/or an application to administer the estate with an eye toward gaining control of the administration or, at least, forcing the perpetrator to initiate the administration.  Once an estate is open, there are opportunities to force meaningful discovery, such as employing a little used statute, Ohio Code §2113.26, to compel an executor to come forth in open court and answer questions on any matters relating to the administration of the estate.  Thus, a person who holds a Will from probate can be forced to provide the Will, laying open avenues of discovery.

Dependent on unique factual circumstances, other methods of gaining information might be available. As an example, certain family members can seek an accounting from an agent under a power of attorney.  Frankly, the ability to gather information depends not only on deciding the optimal mechanism of pursuit, but also requires a skilled execution of the strategy decided upon.  Both require a sold working knowledge of the Probate Code, Trust Code, Civil Rules and ancillary laws.

A party intent on getting information, with perseverance, is usually able to find out what occurred and can then embark on the analysis necessary to determine if bringing a claim is of reasonable value to warrant the cost. Our Cleveland Probate Litigation attorneys can help ascertain whether the pursuit of legal action is right for your unique situation.