When a loved one passes away, navigating the probate process can be daunting and exhausting. Once the estate has been distributed and probate is closed, it would be nice to rest easy knowing that “what’s done is done;” however, it is important to understand that there are a few circumstances where a closed estate can be reopened again in Illinois.
Reopening an Estate under the Probate Act
The Illinois Probate Act allows an interested person to petition to reopen a closed estate if there is (1) a newly discovered asset, or (2) an unsettled portion of the estate. For example, if someone discovers that a decedent had other previously-unknown real estate, bank accounts, vehicles, or investments titled in their name, the estate can be reopened to distribute these additional assets. While an Illinois estate can be reopened at any time under these circumstances, courts in Illinois have concluded that these are nevertheless the only reasons to reopen a closed estate under the Probate Act. Accordingly, if a newly discovered heir arrives on the scene and wants to make a claim on a closed estate, they cannot use the Probate Act to do so.
Reopening an Estate under the Code of Civil Procedure
While the Probate Act is a dead end for most efforts to reopen a closed estate, the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure is more permissive. Under Section 2-1401 of the Code, a petitioner can seek relief from orders—including an order closing an estate—if the petitioner can make an “appropriate showing as to matters not of record,” i.e., new facts that the court was not aware of when it entered the order. These new facts can include, among other things, the discovery of additional heirs.
To bring a successful Section 2-1401 petition to reopen a closed estate, a petitioner must show the court that they acted with due diligence in bringing the petition, or in other words, that they did not sleep on their rights. If a potential heir was aware of a possible claim on an estate during probate, the court may not look favorably on them if they wait until the estate is closed to assert a claim.
While reopening a closed estate under Section 2-1401 can be more permissive, it comes with a relatively short statute of limitations. A petitioner must file their motion to reopen the estate within two years after it was closed. This two-year limit can be extended where a petitioner’s claim is fraudulently concealed by another party, or where a petitioner has a legal disability (including being of minority age).
Reopening an Estate when an Heir did not Receive Proper Notice
Without the aid of the Probate Act or the Code of Civil Procedure, an interested party can still move to have an order to close an estate vacated at any time if he or she did not receive proper notice of the estate proceedings. This is because the probate court does not have jurisdiction over individuals who do not receive notice. Accordingly, if you are involved in administering an estate, take care to ensure that all interested parties receive proper notice of the proceedings as required under the Probate Act. Note that if there are potentially unknown heirs, or heirs with unknown addresses, the Probate Act requires that notice be published in a local newspaper once a week for three consecutive weeks. If you take these steps to avoid any defects in notice, you are one step closer to resting easy when an estate is closed.
If you are looking for assistance with navigating estate planning or probating an estate, contact our law office and schedule a consultation.