Is estate litigation common?

When someone passes away, the loved ones they leave behind may find themselves in conflict with one another over the estate and inheritances. It’s a sad fact that this is not uncommon. Long-simmering tensions may erupt, or new fissures may develop. As a result, one or more persons may initiate litigation against the estate. If you are the estate executor or a party to the litigation, it may be in your best interest to hire an estate lawyer. Ideally, working with an estate planning lawyer when creating the estate will minimize the risk of litigation, but it can happen regardless.

What are the common reasons for litigating an estate?

For a lawsuit against the estate to move forward, the party must prove to the court that they have legal grounds for doing so. The criteria are established based on the type of litigation or lawsuit. Here are the most common reasons for litigating an estate:

The Will is Contested

When the plaintiff and their attorney contest the decedent’s will, they must prove one or more of the following is true:

  • There were no witnesses to the decedent signing the will.
  •  The decedent had a serious mental illness (such as dementia) that left them incapacitated and unable to make sound decisions such as who should inherit which of their assets.
  • The decedent was under someone’s control or undue influence at the time that they made their will, and as a result they left their assets to that person rather than to others who should have inherited them for one or more reasons.

The Trust is Contested

If someone has reason to believe that they should have inherited one or more assets from a trust, they may do so on the grounds that it was improperly or poorly created or that the grantor’s choices were not reflected in the outcome.

The Estate or Trust’s Representative or Executor Breached their Fiduciary Duty

The executor or representative of an estate, as well as the trustee of a trust, has the moral and legal obligation to follow certain rules and meet certain expectations. More formally, this is referred to in legal terms as their fiduciary duty. A common breach is one in which the executor or trustee manages the estate or trust in such a way that it benefits them personally rather than the beneficiaries. When the decedent worked with an estate planning attorney, they may have specified how the beneficiaries should receive the assets and under what circumstances. If these binding wishes are not carried out, the beneficiaries may choose to take legal action.

The Decedent’s Minor Children’s Guardian

When a parent dies and their child or children are minors, the court will grant custody to the guardian named in the decedent’s will. If they did not name a guardian or did not have a will, the court will determine a guardian. Sometimes the choice of guardian as determined by the decedent or the court is contested by other loved ones. The current guardian may be accused of harming the child and so the action is taken to remove them from that role.

To learn more about how an estate planning attorney, like an estate planning lawyer in Allentown, PA, can help your estate avoid litigation, contact our office today.

Thank you to the experts at Klenk Law for their input into estate planning, wills, and estate planning law.

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