Background: My father recently passed away and I have received a request to sign a Petition to Probate in Solemn Form. Even though I did not receive a copy of my father’s will, I am wondering if I am obligated to sign this document.
Question: What does it legally mean if I sign this document or refuse to sign it?
Answer from Loraine: Please accept my condolences on the loss of your father. I would advise you against acknowledging that you have received the Petition or signing it. By signing the Petition to Probate, you are legally stating that you have received copies of: (1) the Will; (2) any codicil to the Will; and (3) the Petition itself. Signing the Petition also indicates your consent to allow the proposed Executor to submit the Will to the probate court. The proposed Executor of your father’s estate is not supposed to send you an Acknowledgment without also forwarding to you the three critically important copies mentioned earlier. You need to make it clear to the proposed Executor that you will not sign the Petition to Probate request until you receive the copies you need. If you have any question about any of the documents, your rights in this matter or whether you should sign the Acknowledgment, take your copies to an attorney and have the attorney review it for you.
One caution: If the proposed Executor files the Petition without your signature, you will receive notice that the Petition has been filed, and the court will send you copies of the Petition and the Will along with the notice. At that time, however, you will have a fairly short period of time to bring any objections. For that reason, you should NOT postpone action on this. Instead, to allow your attorney proper time to thoroughly review the documents and recommend a prudent course of action for you, you need to have the attorney review all documents you receive as soon as possible after you receive them.
Key Estate Planning Takeaway: Before you sign any legal document, you should understand what the effect of your signing it will be. This knowledge is especially important when it comes to a Will that is to be submitted to a probate court. As in the example above, signing a Petition to Probate Will in Solemn Form without having been provided with a copy of the related Will and the entire Petition can cause you to lose your rights to challenge the Will and lead to your consenting to something that you don’t agree to. And if you receive something from a court stating that something has been filed in a probate matter, you need to act as soon as possible, because you will only have a very short time to protect your rights under those circumstances.
This “Q&A with Loraine” blog series features answers from Morgan + DiSalvo Partner Loraine DiSalvo to questions posted on www.avvo.com. A key takeaway from each exchange highlights an important facet of estate planning.