What to Expect When an Estate Is a Defendant in a Civil Lawsuit

During the implementation of an estate plan, the personal representative must pay the debts of the decedent. In some cases, these debts may come in the form of a judgment in a civil lawsuit. If the defendant in the lawsuit is your loved one who has recently passed away, the personal representative must step in and continue with the case.

Tips for Navigating the Process

If you are the personal representative of an estate that is party to a lawsuit, you may feel overwhelmed at the duties that lay before you. Following is an overview of what you can expect, in addition to some helpful tips:

  1. After the passing of your loved one, his estate is now the defendant in the cause of action. There is generally no requirement to file a notice since the defendant is not the party that is at risk of losing out if the lawsuit is automatically dismissed.
  2. As the personal representative of the estate, it is your job to handle the lawsuit. Your actions during these proceedings must be in the best interests of the estate.
  3. Personal representatives can, and should, work with a litigation attorney rather than attempting to proceed alone.
  4. If a settlement is proposed, the personal representative should consult with the beneficiaries or heirs of the estate to obtain a consensus as to whether the amount is agreeable. Failing to do so could lead to disputes down the road.
  5. Consult with the litigation attorney handling the case to determine whether the lawsuit is still viable without the deceased person’s testimony, assuming it has not already been given.

A good first step when you are administering an estate that is subject to a lawsuit is to first find out where the case is being tried. For example, if the lawsuit were being filed in Orange County, it would be handled through the Superior Court in that county. Your next step should be to consult with an experienced attorney. We encourage you to get in touch with us today to find out how we can help.

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