Probate Proceedings & Alternative Resolutions
Probate Court Proceedings
Generally speaking, probate in Maine is fairly straightforward and efficient.
For most estates there is very little contact with the Probate Court and no contact with the Probate Judge. The jurisdiction of Maine’s Probate Courts, however, is very broad and these courts are often asked to determine the outcomes of more difficult estate and trust administrations. The Probate Court has jurisdiction to decide what constitutes a valid will or trust, who is to be appointed Personal Representative, Administrator or Trustee, and the meaning of terms or provisions in relevant documents. The Court can guide troubled administrations hindered by difficult family dynamics, challenging assets, or mounting creditors. They can resolve ambiguities in trust instruments through traditional court actions or approve settlement agreements negotiated and executed by the parties. They can modify or clarify trust instruments, using creative tools under the law to respond to changing family, tax or financial circumstances. Our attorneys are experienced in navigating varying matters – both the straightforward and the very complex – through the Maine Probate Court system. In addition, there are circumstances in which we can shift governing law and jurisdiction to a state other than Maine to take advantage of flexibility not afforded under Maine law.
Probate Courts also address actions involving incapacitated persons, both adults and minors. Such actions can range from simple approval of a particular estate planning technique in a one-time request to seeking the appointment of a fiduciary to manage the financial affairs or care of the incapacitated individual. Guardianships and conservatorships are intended to protect and provide care both for adults who are unable to make or communicate responsible decisions for themselves, and for minors whose natural guardians (legal parents) are not able to take care of them because of death or other circumstances. A good estate plan that includes planning for disability can alleviate the need for a guardian or conservator of an adult. A guardian makes decisions about a ward’s life and welfare – such things as the ward’s place of residence, medical treatment, and social needs. A conservator makes decisions about the ward’s money and property. The Probate Court will make decisions concerning a guardianship or conservatorship after a proceeding requiring such things as a petition, a doctor’s report, notices to interested parties, and a hearing. The appointment of a guardian and/or conservator restricts a person’s individual rights and freedoms and is thus a serious matter for the court to consider. Once a guardian and/or conservator is appointed, annual reports must be provided to the Probate Court.
Whether to initiate and pursue court proceedings to seek guardianship and/or conservatorship over a loved one can be a difficult and stressful process. We can assist you in working through such decisions, and the necessary court proceedings, as well as the continuing reporting requirements that follow the appointments.
Trained in the Harvard Law School non-caucus method of mediation, where all parties work together to arrive at a client-driven outcome, we offer a more holistic, family-driven approach to alternative dispute resolution.
Contentious Probate Court proceedings can be expensive, time-consuming, and can negatively impact family relationships. Family mediation proves to be an efficient means to both resolve complicated, hostile issues and to begin the healing process. Our experience shows that through open dialog with an engaged mediator, mediation can help families through even the most contentious matters and help them turn the page on a difficult chapter.