Once someone has filed a new estate lawsuit, the discovery process begins. Discovery is a stage of litigation that takes place outside of the courtroom, but it is no less important than courtroom proceedings. Today, as part of our series on estate litigation in North Carolina, we are going to take a closer look at the discovery process.
The Discovery Process: The Goals
Discovery is, like its name implies, the process in which all the sides in a lawsuit go about finding out what happened. It’s the investigation phase of the litigation process, and one that can involve both sides gathering information in various ways.
For example, let’s say that your grandfather died after writing a will shortly before his death. You initiated litigation because you do not believe your grandfather had the requisite mental ability necessary to make a will. After you file your lawsuit, you’ll have to go through the discovery process in an attempt to find the facts surrounding your grandfather’s writing of the will. You might need to talk to your grandfather’s health care providers, people who talked to him during that time, or inspect his medical records in order to find out what happened.
The Discovery Process: The Tools
If discovery is the process of finding out information, how do you go about finding that information? There are several ways, each of which might be used in different situations.
For example, if you need to find specific documents you might ask the other side to produce those documents. If the information you seek isn’t documented, but is something that someone might know, you can submit a list of questions known as an interrogatory. If you don’t think a list of written questions will be enough, you can conduct a deposition. A deposition is where you take testimony from a witness who is under oath, but in which you do so outside of a courtroom setting.
The Discovery Process: Concluding Discovery
As the two sides in the estate litigation case go through the discovery process, they might come to an agreement, or settlement, over one or more of the issues present. This is entirely natural and is, in fact, how most estate litigation cases get resolved. Very few litigation cases go to trial. In most situations, the two sides agree to settlement terms without forcing a court to get involved to make a decision on the specific issues.
Of course, even if the two sides go through the entire discovery process, it’s possible that they cannot come to a settlement. If this happens the case will go to trial. We’ll talk more about settlements in our next discussion, and will talk about trials after that.