There are many important stages in court cases. The case must be properly initiated by filing a petition, the defendants must be properly served, and there are court appearances required. Probate cases are no exception. Informal probate provides a simplified process for these types of cases, but they will still require very specific steps be taken to get the estate properly administered. With formal probate, there are more technical and involved processes, and unlike informal probate, you will have to appear before a judge. Formal probate will also sometimes require a process called “discovery.”
Discovery is an essential step in most court cases. During discovery, the parties can require the disclosure of information and production of documents from their opponents. Discovery can be done in writing, as is the case for interrogatories or requests for production of documents. Alternatively or sometimes in addition, discovery may be conducted in person during “depositions.” However, it is conducted, once discovery questions are posed, they must be answered, and the answers are given under oath. In other words, if you lie on your discovery responses, either outright or by omission, the court can impose severe penalties.
Discovery is not required for every probate case but is essential, particularly when there are hotly contested issues. The type of discovery requests will change depending on what the issues are in your particular case. For example, if you are the personal representative and defending a claim that the will is invalid because the testator did not have the capacity to make the will, discovery will likely involve copies of medical records that demonstrate the testator’s state of health and state of mind at or near the time the will was executed. Discovery in probate will also likely involve financial records. Probate is, at its core, is just the way the court helps to pay the debts and distribute the assets of the deceased. Accordingly, the personal representative and the potential beneficiaries, as well as some creditors, will want to know the financial affairs of the estate. Finally, it is also common for a personal representative to request written or other proof from a creditor that a debt is actually owed. If it has yet to be produced, it is common for this information to be requested in discovery.
We have extensive experience helping our clients with all stages of the probate process. Call us today at (651) 371-9117 and let us help you.