People don't deal with the legal ramifications of estates very often. Finding out that someone has sued over your interest in an estate is an even lower-probability event. You might feel stunned, especially if the plaintiff is someone close to you. However, you need to have a plan to respond so follow these four steps.
Collect the Documents
Whatever documentation you have that attests to your interest in the estate, gather that paperwork can make copies. Safely store the originals in case the court might need them. Make sure you make copies of the lawsuit, too. You will likely want to show the suit to an estate litigation lawyer so they can assess the case's merits.
Mind the Dates
Note any dates attached to the suit. The court will likely set a date for the parties to respond. Failing to respond appropriately by this date could result in a default judgment in favor of the plaintiff. If the date is unworkable for you, an estate litigation attorney can petition the court to bump the date. Judges are usually open to moving court dates to allow respondents time to gather their arguments and supporting documents.
Discuss Legal Options
Before you respond, talk with an estate litigation lawyer about the legal options. If your counsel thinks it's a junk case, they may want to ask the court to dismiss it with prejudice. This means the judge would rule the case is unlikely to be productive. For example, the court might rule that the plaintiff doesn't have standing because other people's claims take priority.
Mediation or a settlement could resolve the case. Especially if you're not invested in whatever is at stake, this could be a way out. Notably, some jurisdictions require the parties to attempt good-faith negotiations before allowing a case to move too far forward.
You should, however, assume the lawsuit is moving forward until a judge says otherwise. The court will usually want to see evidence attesting to your claim to the estate. Evidence may include documentation of your relationship to the deceased and a copy of the will. You also can present letters, texts, social media posts, and other communications that may attest to how the deceased felt about the estate's disposition.
Particularly if the suit involves a close family member, you may be angry. Avoid contacting interested parties. Use your estate litigation attorney as a conduit for communication about the case. The system will sort this out so keep your cool.
For more info, contact a local estate litigation lawyer.