This is “Sam’s” cautionary tale of trying to DIY his dad’s estate over four years, with zero progress. I like to call this a Sisyphus story. Sisyphus was a figure from Greek mythology whose punishment for eternity was to push a heavy stone up a hill, but right when he would get to the top, the stone would come sliding back down to the bottom for him to start over again for all eternity. That is what Sam has felt like for the past four years.
Sam’s dad died years ago in Europe, and Sam had court hearings in European probate courts where they were declared Sam and his siblings the heirs. But in Europe the probate process is much different than New York and the U.S., as there are no actual executors; the court just declares who are the heirs.
A couple of years later, the heirs discovered a U.S. bank account that they wanted to collect. Sam spent the next four years following bank instructions into a black hole. The bank would tell him to do one thing which led to months of playing liaison with the European courts and the U.S., only to be told that it was the wrong information. Each time this happened, Sam had to start all over again.
Finally, Sam called us, and we realized that we needed to start from scratch. Even after hiring us, Sam kept talking to the bank, which created more problems, mixed signals, and cross information.
Common Probate Mistakes
The first common probate mistake is to rely on the bank’s “advice.” The bank is not an advisor. If anything, their incentives are to keep the money in the accounts.
The second common probate mistake is to underestimate the complexity of the situation. Many clients believe that they have a “simple” probate matter when they call our office for help. However, often after we ask them some preliminary questions, we find that it is actually a complex estate matter. Any time the estate deals with overseas factors, the situation is certainly more complex. This should have been a red flag for Sam.
Lastly, once an attorney is hired to handle the estate, it does not help for clients to continue to work on the estate. Clients may think that they can help reduce the amount of work or hourly cost if they do some of the probate work themselves. That is not how it works, and it could end up costing the client more to have the attorney fix the DIY mistakes.
Avoid Problems in Probate
The bankers are bureaucrats, not your advisors. If you are not getting headway immediately with a bank, get a professional to help you. An experienced probate attorney can navigate the bureaucratic banking problems.
Everyone thinks their case is “simple.” What someone thinks is simple is probably just the tip of the iceberg of complex problems or twists. How do you figure out if you truly have a simple case or a more complicated situation? Many excellent probate lawyers offer free consults, so use that consultation to find out. Lawyers offer free consultations for a reason! It helps the attorney and the client to see if they are a good fit for each other.
Lastly, when you hire someone, let them do their job!