The fictitious John Powers wanted to do his estate planning. As a first step, his estate planning attorney asked him to complete a form that asked various questions, including a request to identify his immediate family members. John had an evil twin brother, Douglas Powers, also known as Dr. Evil. John profusely hated Douglas and hadn’t spoken to him in at least 20 years. He decided to leave the question blank on the estate planning form asking him to name his siblings. After all, why should John mention Douglas on the form? John certainly didn’t want his brother to receive an estate distribution.
John’s estate planning attorney never found about John’s omission. On John’s Will, it stated that John had no siblings. Six months after John executed his Will, he unexpectedly had a heart attack and died. John’s best friend, Jane Firestead, was listed as the Personal Representative of John’s estate. Jane met with the probate attorney after John’s death, and they reviewed the provisions of John’s Will. “One thing isn’t right,” Jane said. “John actually had a brother, Douglas Powers.” The probate attorney responded, “Wow, really? Why isn’t Douglas mentioned?” “Because he’s evil,” Jane responded.
The probate attorney explained to Jane that RCW 11.28.237(1) requires, “Within twenty days after appointment, the personal representative of the estate of a decedent shall cause written notice of his or her appointment and the pendency of said probate proceedings, to be served personally or by mail to each heir, legatee and devisee of the estate.” Jane responded, “So? Douglas isn’t an heir. He’s not going to receive anything.” The probate attorney responded that RCW 11.02.005(6) defined an heir as “those persons, including the surviving spouse or surviving domestic partner, who are entitled under the statutes of intestate succession to the real and personal property of a decedent on the decedent’s death intestate.” Douglas was indeed an heir pursuant to the statutory definition and needed to receive notice of John’s probate.
The probate attorney further explained that, since Douglas was evil, providing notice to him when the probate is initiated and also when it is about to be closed would be helpful because it prevents Douglas from raising claims against the estate unless he does so in a timely manner. RCW 11.68.110 provides that “unless an heir, devisee, or legatee of a decedent [who receives notice] petitions the court either for an order requiring the personal representative to obtain court approval of the amount of fees paid or to be paid to the personal representative, lawyers, appraisers, or accountants, or for an order requiring an accounting, or both, within thirty days from the date of filing a declaration of completion of probate, the personal representative will be automatically discharged without further order of the court and the representative’s powers will cease thirty days after the filing of the declaration of completion of probate, and the declaration of completion of probate shall, at that time, be the equivalent of the entry of a decree of distribution.” In other words, by his very nature, Douglas would likely be inclined to raise claims against John’s estate. When the estate notifies Douglas per the statute, it prevents Douglas from successfully filing evil and frivolous motions against John’s estate once the probate has concluded.
Providing the requisite notice to Douglas proved problematic. Jane was vaguely aware that Douglas lived underground somewhere in the desert outside of Las Vegas. Eventually, Douglas was found and the estate then provided him with the proper notification. Thankfully, Douglas never raised any claims and John’s probate then proceeded without incident.
If you are estranged from a family member, be sure to mention these circumstances to your estate planning attorney. If you pretend that your evil twin brother doesn’t exist, it creates an opportunity down the road for him to wreak havoc with your probate. As evil twins are wont to do.
This post is for informational purposes and does not contain or convey legal advice. The information herein should not be used or relied upon in regard to any particular facts or circumstances without first consulting with an attorney.