One of the jobs of the administrator or executor of an estate is to settle out the debts of the deceased -- that can get very complicated if the deceased died while embroiled in some sort of conflict or died as the result of injuries in an accident that he or she caused.
In effect, the other parties involved in the dispute or accident may try to sue the deceased through his or her estate in order to obtain compensation for whatever economic damages they've suffered.
As you can imagine, this doesn't exactly make things easier when it comes to closing out the estate.
The good news is that potential litigants have to act fairly quickly in order to initiate legal proceedings against the deceased's estate -- ordinary statute of limitations often don't apply in cases where the defendant is deceased because a lawsuit filed after the estate is closed doesn't have anything to pursue.
There are also some rules that potential litigants have to follow in order to make sure that their right to pursue litigation against the deceased's estate is preserved. Most importantly, they need to file a claim in order to notify the executor of the estate that there is a potential outstanding debt.
The bad news is that potential litigation can slow down the probate process considerably -- which not only delays any disbursements to the deceased's heirs but could ultimately drain the estate of some of its resources over time.
In addition, if the lawsuit is successful, there may be far less for the heirs to collect -- because debts have to be paid prior to disbursing whatever is left of the estate.
If you're the executor of the deceased's estate, it's important to make sure that you send the potential claimant proper notification of the deadline to file any final claims. If you fail to do this, the other party could potentially get the court to allow an eleventh-hour claim.
If there's any possibility that the deceased's estate may be sued, it's probably wisest to seek the advice of an attorney with experience in estate administration and the complexities that can arise in these kinds of situations. For more information on how our firm can help you, please visit our page.