For many families, the estate administration (probate) process is relatively dull, if a bit lengthy. First, the court appoints someone to handle the deceased party’s affairs or formalizes the choice of executor named in the deceased’s will. The executor or personal representative of the estate then secures and manages assets. They communicate with creditors, and they eventually distribute property to the beneficiaries named in the deceased’s estate planning documents (or in the event that someone dies without a will, they’ll distribute assets per state intestate laws).
However, for some families, probate proceedings become contentious because someone initiates litigation. There are numerous reasons why there might be a lawsuit initiated in relation to the administration of someone’s estate. These are a few of the most common reasons people initiate probate litigation.
To challenge or set aside testamentary documents
Maybe an older adult already had symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease when they drafted a will. Perhaps there are concerns that a caregiver pressured someone into changing their documents.
There are even situations in which a testator disinherited a spouse, who then brings a challenge to assert their right under state statutes. Those unhappy with or concerned about a will can potentially use probate litigation to address their concerns.
To challenge or replace an executor or trustee
The individuals empowered with the administration of an estate or the trust created by a testator won’t always fulfill their obligations. Some people embezzle, while others let inertia take over and fail to properly manage assets. When someone violates their fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries of an estate or trust, estate litigation to remove them from their role may soon follow.
Issues that could impact the value of someone’s inheritance or undermine the true intention of the deceased party could lead to probate litigation. Whenever people have reason to question the documents themselves or the terms included in them, probate litigation may follow. The same is true of situations involving either executor misconduct or a failure to take necessary steps during estate administration.
Those who believe that the terms of an estate plan or the actions of the person carrying it out either violate the wishes of the deceased or state law may have grounds to bring the matter to the attention of the probate courts.
Recognizing why people pursue probate litigation can help beneficiaries and executors evaluate their own circumstances. Once they’ve done so, they can seek legal guidance to receive personalized feedback concerning their next steps.