When we execute a trust or a will, we don’t often think about what could happen in the event a dispute arises over it, often after we’re gone. Unfortunately, estate and trust litigation can become necessary in many cases. Wills, trusts, probates, and estates all involve real people experiencing real emotions. At Loew Law Group, we understand the importance of ensuring that estates and trusts are faithfully interpreted and administered. If you’re experiencing or are the subject of a trust or estate dispute, count on us to defend your interests and rights under the law.
How Do Estate And Trust Disputes Arise?
Testators rely on attorneys to carefully and clearly draft wills which honor their wishes. But when the testator dies and the will is probated, there is no guarantee it will be correctly interpreted. The execution of the will may be suspect, or perhaps it was revoked and replaced later with another one. These problems can cause legal challenges which may undermine the validity of the will. In some cases, the actions of the executor can trigger legal challenges. We also see conflicts initiated by beneficiaries or would-be beneficiaries who were left out of the will.
Lawsuits concerning trusts are often begun for many of the same reasons. Like wills, trusts may be challenged over fraud, undue influence, and lack of capacity. Sometimes beneficiaries feel their rights have been violated, or believe that trustees are not doing their job. Removing and replacing trustees, in fact, is a major part of litigation involving trusts.
Wills and trusts that involve substantial sums of money are especially prone to litigation. Estates with multiple parties involved in different capacities could be susceptible to legal problems as well.
Who Are The Potential Parties In Estate Litigation Trials
The more people involved with an estate, the more room there is for conflict. Some of the common will and trust disputes involve the following parties:
Beneficiaries. The aim of a good estate planning attorney is to clearly delineate the rights of each beneficiary to a will or trust. But even so, conflicts often arise between the beneficiaries, especially when they are related or their respective distributions are unclear.
Executors and Trustees. The individuals responsible for carrying out the duties expressed in estate planning documents are vested with significant power. Naturally, they often run into conflicts with beneficiaries and others who are involved in the estate.
Third Parties. Disputes can sometimes arise between executors, trustees, and beneficiaries on the one hand, and necessary third parties on the other. These may include banks, doctors, lawyers, or other institutions which for one reason or another are involved with the estate.
What Are Some Estate And Trust Issues That May Arise During Litigation?
Fiduciary complaints. A fiduciary is an individual vested with a high degree of responsibility. They are legally obligated to act in a trustworthy and honest manner. With respect to estates, the two most common are executors (wills) and trustees (trusts). Some of the common complaints raised against fiduciaries include:
- Conflicts of interest
- Favoritism towards one or several beneficiaries
- Mismanagement of assets
Complaints concerning beneficiaries. In some cases, beneficiaries will obtain assets fraudulently, transfer assets to their names fraudulently, conceal or fail to return assets, and more. In other cases, it’s unclear who the heir of an estate is. When a person is left out of a will, the would-be beneficiary may suspect it to be the result of fraud or undue influence. Sometimes, the dispute is raised simply because a beneficiary is not satisfied with what he or she received from the estate.
Complaints involving creditor claims. An important part of probating an estate is resolving the legitimate claims of creditors. However, not all claims are legitimate, and unscrupulous parties may attempt to collect on invalid or previously satisfied claims. If the fiduciary is not careful in satisfying creditor claims, a lawsuit could arise.
Complaints involving the testators and trustors (settlors). A variety of issues could be brought up involving the individuals who make and execute a will and trust. Perhaps the testator or trustor did not have the requisite capacity to execute a will or trust. Or the actual execution of the document is suspect, or is missing the required witnesses.
Guardian complaints. Testators with young or disabled children should name a guardian to care for them. The guardian provides for many of the children’s needs such as education, housing, and medical care. When guardians fail to perform this role dutifully, children can suffer, and the door opens to challenging the guardian’s actions.
Is It Possible To Settle Estate Disputes?
As with any other litigation, a dispute arising over an estate may be settled. Because estate litigation can be expensive, it’s important to carefully consider the pros and cons of taking a matter to court. In many cases, an estate litigation attorney can resolve conflicts using informal means. Even when lawsuits are filed, these matters can be settled before reaching court, or before trial.
How Long Can An Estate Dispute Last?
Although every case is unique, will and trust contests tend to last anywhere from six months to about two years. The duration of your particular case will depend largely on the size of the estate and the means and attitudes of the parties involved. It will also depend on how successful alternative methods such as mediation are in resolving the dispute.
Contact Our San Mateo Trust and Estate Litigation Attorney
Before deciding to initiate legal action, it’s essential to understand your rights and obligations under a will or trust. Your particular claim may also be subject to a statute of limitation, which will bar legal action after a certain period of time. If your interests in an estate are being violated, or you are accused of wrongdoing, contact the attorneys at Loew Law Group. We can set up a consultation with you today.