Having to deal with estate litigation after the death of a loved one is the last thing you want. Dealing with a lawsuit or disputes over a will is something that you want to avoid, especially during the grieving process.
Unfortunately, even when proper planning has occurred, estate litigation still occurs. There are many common causes of estate litigation and working with an experiencing attorney can help you in what often is an emotional situation.
In this guide, we’ll go over why estate litigation happens and how to properly handle it when it does.
What Is Estate Litigation?
A person’s estate is all of the assets they own when they pass away. An executor of the estate is usually appointed before a person’s death and it is their job to distribute the assets and pay any creditors. Disputes can arise between family members or close friends during the process of asset distribution.
If they’re not able to reach an agreement, litigation may be required. That means any matters related to the estate are brought into probate court.
Disputes can occur between the executor and beneficiary, between two beneficiaries, or a beneficiary and a third party. A third party can include someone that wasn’t mentioned in the will or estate documents but has a dispute with its contents.
Common Causes of Estate Litigation
Estate litigation can include a variety of disputes. Even if a will has been set up beforehand, there can still be problems.
A person needs a legal reason in order to contest a will. They’re not able to do so just because they don’t like what the will says. There are four legal reasons, but keep in mind it can be hard to prove them:
- The signing of the will isn’t in compliance with state laws
- The person signing the will wasn’t of sound mind
- The will signer was influenced by someone else
- The signer of the will believed they were signing another document, like a power of attorney
Unfortunately, these legal reasons can be hard to prove because the person that signed the will is no longer with us, unless there was someone who witnessed any fraud and can testify to that. In the event one of these reasons is proven in a court of law, the entire will can be thrown out, not just the item being contested.
If the deceased has experienced a change in the structure of their family, like a second or subsequent marriage, that can result in estate litigation. They often fail to change their will to include new family members or if they do update it, they remove some family from it.
Disputes are bound to happen in these types of scenarios. If there have been changes to your family, it is best to address those beforehand in order to avoid any unnecessary friction.
People often create a will and other estate documents years before their life concludes. In this case, it can cause family members to question whether the will actually reflects their final wishes and if it should be disregarded.
There are no expiration dates on wills, but some items on them can become outdated. If the will states that a certain person should be the executor of the estate, but that person passes first, that aspect of the will is invalid. In order to avoid any issues, it is wise to review your will every few years and update it as needed.
Abuse of Finances
In some cases, a family member may have control over someone else’s finances before they pass away. They could abuse that by transferring money into their own accounts before that person passes away. Estate litigation can result as family members seek to have the abuser give the money they took back so it can be evenly distributed in accordance with the will.
This can also include situations where the person creating the will was influenced by someone else to perhaps give them more of their estate. If there is any proof of coercion from someone else, it can call the entire will into question.
Do I Need an Estate Lawyer?
Having to deal with estate litigation when you’re grieving over the loss of a family member can be extremely painful. Hiring a team of experienced estate lawyers to have on your side can help you get smoothly through the process. If there are any disputes with the estate, they can be dealt with efficiently.
Estate lawyers can represent the executor of the will, a beneficiary or heir, or a spouse/unmarried partner.
There are many legal concepts and complicated court procedures involved with estate litigation. You can try to handle a dispute without a lawyer, but it is not recommended since estate litigation can be extremely technical.
How Does Estate Litigation Work?
If there is a dispute, it is vital to consult an estate lawyer immediately. If you’re an executor and there is a dispute among other people, try not to get involved and seek council instead. Most disputes can be resolved using mediation or negotiation by lawyers.
Each party will hire their own estate lawyers and sometimes the estate itself will have to hire one to guarantee that the estate is being protected. All legal fees for the estate’s representation will come from the estate.
If the dispute heads to trial, the “successful” party will receive some of their legal fees back. How much they receive is up to the discretion of the court.
The estate litigation process can be expensive, especially if you end up going to trial. Having a knowledgeable lawyer is essential to helping you and all parties involved resolve the dispute before it gets to that point.
Hire an Estate Lawyer Today
Even if you’re in the process of creating a will or estate documents, having an estate lawyer help you through the process will ensure the will is ironclad, avoiding any unnecessary estate litigation. Unfortunately, things disputes do arise, so it is best to call in professionals to assist.
For more information regarding legal matters, check out one of our other articles.