Useful information to help guide
your probate process

What Are the Reasons to Reopen a Closed Estate?

As directed by the Illinois Probate Act, there are certain circumstances under which a closed probate estate could – and, perhaps, even should – be reopened.

Broadly speaking, an interested party to an estate can petition to reopen it at any time, in order to “permit the administration of a newly discovered asset or of an unsettled portion of the estate.”

So, what circumstances may qualify? Here are a few scenarios that may prompt an interested party to seek to reopen a closed probate estate in Illinois:

Discovery of a New Asset

An interested party may have reason to seek to have a closed estate reopened if they discover that the deceased owned previously unknown property eligible for probate, such as: 

  • Real estate
  • Boat or motor vehicle
  • Bank account
  • Retirement account
  • Bonds or other securities

To qualify, remember that this asset must be titled in the deceased’s name (and not jointly owned with anyone as tenants with rights of survivorship), and have no designated or named beneficiary (which would allow the asset to get passed without probate having to be reopened).

Discovery of a New Debt

In certain circumstances, the discovery of a new debt may because to have a closed estate reopened. In other words, if a new creditor makes a claim against the deceased and seeks payment from the estate, it may be necessary to reopen probate.

With that said, it’s important for the estate’s representative to determine if the debt is legitimate (e.g., not fraudulent) and timely. Generally, creditors are given a window, by law, during which they can file a claim during the probate process; it may be beneficial to consult with a probate attorney to see if the estate really will be responsible for handling this late claim.

Improper Distribution of Assets

If the representative in charge of administering the estate did not properly distribute all assets to heirs and beneficiaries, there may be cause to reopen the estate, in certain circumstances.

Similarly, if an interested party suspects fraud, dereliction of duty, or other wrongdoing on the part of the representative, there may be grounds to petition to reopen a closed estate, to ensure that the decedent’s wishes are carried out fully and fairly.

And finally, the discovery of a new, valid will and testament by the decedent may provide enough reason to reopen a closed probate estate. Broadly speaking, the will must be enforceable under Illinois law, and must have been written later than the will that was probated initially.

Newly Discovered Heir

Has a previously unknown heir come out of the woodwork, one who would be eligible to inherit the decedent’s assets under Illinois intestacy laws (that is, if the deceased passed away without a will, or with substantial gaps in their estate plan)? If so, there may be cause to reopen a closed estate.

It’s important to take care to make sure that this heir does stand to inherit under the law, and to ensure that there is a valid reason to go through the (not insignificant) trouble of reopening probate. For instance, can you determine if this potential heir was given suitable notice of proceedings during the initial probate process? If they were, then they likely missed their chance to make a claim now. If they were legitimately overlooked or skipped over, it may be necessary to petition to reopen the estate to ensure that the law is followed to the letter.

In all cases, it’s important to remember that reopening a closed estate can be a complicated and time-consuming process, with numerous twists and turns along the way before the matter is resolved. For that reason, many people find that they benefit from consulting with an experienced probate professional when considering whether or not they can, or should, reopen an estate.

If you have a question about any aspect of the probate or estate administration process in the Chicagoland area, or the state of Illinois more broadly, don’t hesitate to reach out to our office!

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