Estate litigation is a legal process that families sometimes must navigate in the wake of a loved one’s passing. It involves the challenging of a will, trust or the administration of an estate.
Understanding the common reasons why families file estate litigation is important both when estate planning and in the wake of a loved one’s death. By understanding these risks when estate planning, it is easier for someone to avoid inspiring a contest over their legacy. By understanding these concerns during probate and estate administration, those with a stake in a loved one’s estate can make more informed decisions about when it may be appropriate to take legal action and when it may be appropriate to pursue alternative forms of dispute resolution.
1. Disputes over the validity of a will
One of the most common reasons for estate litigation involves contesting the validity of a will. Questions may arise regarding whether the deceased was of sound mind when the will was created, or if there was undue influence or coercion from someone close to the deceased. In some cases, there might be suspicions of fraud, like a forged signature, which can also lead to litigation.
2. Questions concerning will and trust documents
Ambiguities or unclear language in wills and trusts can lead to disputes among beneficiaries. When the intentions of the deceased are not clearly articulated, family members may have differing interpretations, each believing their understanding reflects what the deceased truly wanted.
3. Allegations of fiduciary misconduct
Executors and trustees have a fiduciary duty to manage an estate or trust in the best interest of its beneficiaries. Allegations of misconduct, such as mismanagement of assets, self-dealing or failure to distribute assets per the terms of the will or trust, can inspire estate litigation.
4. Issues with previous wills
If there are multiple wills, disputes can arise over which version is the most current and valid. Family members may challenge a more recent will if they believe it was created under suspicious circumstances, preferring to revert to an earlier version.
Ultimately, understanding these common reasons for estate litigation can help individuals and families approach estate planning and estate administration more thoughtfully and minimize potential conflicts.