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Probate judge rules on lawyer fees, debts in contested estate

Probate courts exist in Connecticut for a variety of reasons, but all are related to making sure that citizens have access to the basic functions the courts provide. Probate judges can rule on or approve plans to assign a guardian to a minor, create a conservatorship for someone who needs assistance with everyday financial needs and help convey inheritances to the right people or organizations -- among other duties.

Courts may also help determine when certain funds from an estate may be used prior to their dispersal to inheritors or beneficiaries. A probate judge in West Hartford recently ruled on the use of money from a trust fund for expenses incurred by a young man deeply embroiled in a legal battle with family members over the money in that trust (among other issues).

The petitioner has been accused of involvement in the deaths of his mother and grandfather, and his aunt has filed a petition to disallow the use of funds he may inherit from them on the basis of those accusations. He had previously been representing himself in probate hearings in New Hampshire, including a motion to remove his aunt as the executor of the trust fund.

The Connecticut probate court ordered the trust fund to give the petitioner adequate funding to retain legal representation in future proceedings. The trust was also ordered to pay off some of the young man's personal debts. He declined to remove the executor of the estate, as the court found no wrongdoing on her part.

People subject to probate court proceedings should consider the advantages of legal representation. Cases like this illustrate just how complicated a dispute between relatives can become -- and how many different things it can affect. An attorney can work with judges and other parties to smooth the way to a successful resolution, one step at a time.

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