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Family Settlement Agreements in Probate

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of estate planning, particularly a Living Trust – which can save your loved ones significant time and expense, maintain financial privacy, allow you to control how and when beneficiaries get their inheritance and protect your assets from creditors. However, the fact remains: most people do not have a Living Trust. As a result, their estate ends up in probate court – where there is a potential for disputes among family members, especially those who face the prospect of receiving a lesser share of the deceased’s estate. Enter the Family Settlement Agreement.

A Family Settlement Agreement is a legal agreement between the deceased’s heirs regarding distribution of the deceased’s estate. Attorneys for the Personal Representative in a probate case frequently utilize the Family Settlement Agreement whenever someone has challenged the deceased’s Last Will and Testament. In exchange for payment of money and/or property, the challenger of the Last Will and Testament drops their claim. The Family Settlement Agreement is also a great tool whenever the deceased died intestate, meaning the deceased did not have a Last Will and Testament. If you pass away without a Last Will and Testament, then the laws of the State of Oklahoma dictate how your estate is to be divided; often, this is not in accordance with your wishes. Recognizing this, the heirs can sign a Family Settlement Agreement to get around Oklahoma’s laws of intestate succession. A common example would be a situation in which the deceased wanted everything to go to their husband or wife, not the kids, but failed to make a will. The kids could enter into a Family Settlement Agreement with their mom or dad.

No one wants to see family members suing each other over an estate. After all, a primary goal of mine in doing estate planning for clients is to promote family harmony. Nevertheless, in the event disagreements do arise, a Family Settlement Agreement could be the solution.