If you have a financial stake in the estate of a decedent or a legal obligation to the estate, probate law defines you as an "interested person." Although state laws and definitions vary somewhat, they usually bear similar guidelines. Florida statutes, for example, define an interested person as anyone who is “affected by the outcome” of probate proceedings and this is the norm.
Heirs and Beneficiaries
Anyone with the potential to inherit from the decedent is an interested person. If he left a will, all individuals to whom he bequeathed property are interested persons. Next of kin who are not named in his will may also be interested persons. For instance, if they would've inherited had the decedent died intestate, or without a will. However, not all relatives stand to inherit through intestate succession. Intestate succession is a prescribed, statutory order of relatives who have inheritance rights, beginning with spouses and children and working outward to more distant kin. More distant kin cannot inherit if more immediate kin are alive to do so when the decedent dies. Therefore, the decedent’s parents might not be interested persons if the decedent left a spouse and children. In some states, beneficiaries cease to be interested persons if they receive their bequests prior to the closing of the estate.
If the decedent died owing any money, his creditors are interested persons, because they’re entitled to payment from his estate. The term “person” is not literal in the legal sense. It could be the mortgage company that has a lien against the decedent’s home or a company that has sued him and has an active lawsuit or judgment against him.
Fiduciaries are those individuals who have a legal obligation to the estate. The executor is a fiduciary because the decedent charged her with the responsibility of navigating his estate through the probate process. When a decedent dies without a will, the court appoints someone to oversee probate and this person is a fiduciary also. If the decedent created a trust during his lifetime, the individual he named as trustee may be a fiduciary of the estate, even though assets placed in the trust do not have to pass through the probate process. In some probate proceedings, trustees and executors must work together to resolve the decedent's outstanding debts. All fiduciaries are interested persons, even if they don’t have a personal, financial interest in the estate.
Interested Persons’ Rights
Interested persons are the only individuals who can take legal action on behalf of or against the estate. If the decedent died without a will, an interested person could initiate the probate process so as to receive his rightful inheritance. Creditors can also open probate to attempt to collect money the decedent owed them if no family member comes forward to do so. Probate courts are obligated to give notice of all stages of the proceedings to an estate’s interested persons. These individuals can contest a will or object to the appointment of the named executor. They have a right to review the will and to receive copies of all reports the executor submits to the court.