In most cases, properly executed estate planning goes smoothly. The court's main duties would be to interpret the will, designate an estate administrator if needed, and ensure the fair distribution of assets to the heirs as outlined in the estate plan. Sometimes, however, surviving family members will have disagreements regarding the will. In that case, a probate judge will have the additional responsibility of making decisions to settle the dispute.
In Florida as well as the rest of the country, probate laws are meant to protect the estate from those who might want to take advantage of it. Situations do occur when someone feels he or she has a right to a portion or all of the estate, while other heirs would disagree. A probate judge usually has the power to settle a will dispute and can even block some recipients from receiving anything, even if he or she is listed as a beneficiary.
This was the case with a Minnesota man who went missing in 2009, while heading to his attorney's office to remove his ex-girlfriend as beneficiary of his estate. While the court couldn't find enough evidence to press criminal charges against the woman, the probate judge believed her responsible for his disappearance. The man was declared dead, and the probate judge blocked the ex-girlfriend from receiving any of his estate, estimated at $750,000.
Although a strong will is a vital part of estate planning, it might reassure people to know that in the case of a will contest, the probate court exists to be sure the assets don't fall into the wrong hands and are distributed as fairly as possible.
Source: The Republic, "Probate judge blocks estranged girlfriend from inheriting missing man's estate," Mar. 18, 2013