Simply stated, inheritance litigation occurs when there is conflict over how the assets of someone who dies are distributed. Legal experts offer examples as well as some common reasons for litigation—and how to avoid them.
When the validity of a will or trust is called into question, lengthy litigation proceedings may follow. Probate Stars identify these common reasons for inheritance litigation:
- Contesting the validity of Decedent’s Will on the grounds of undue influence, lack of capacity, or lack of testamentary formalities
- Petitioning to return assets to a Decedent’s estate
- Determining the rightful beneficiaries of Decedent’s assets
- Contesting the validity of Decedent’s Trust on the grounds of undue influence or lack of capacity
- Reforming or modifying a trust
- Breach of fiduciary duty litigation
- Claims by and against the Decedent’s estate
- Challenging beneficiary designations on IRA’s, life insurance policies, and bank accounts
When litigation looms, probate courts are likely to request a fiduciary bond to protect the beneficiaries and estate until the conflicts are resolved. Colonial Surety provides direct, digital fiduciary bonds of all kinds, including the administrator, executor, probate, estate, and personal representative bonds. These bonds safeguard the interests of the estate and its beneficiaries in accordance with state law. At Colonial, the steps to obtaining these bonds are easy—get a quote online, fill out the information, and enter your payment method. Print or e-file the bond right from anywhere—even while at court. Obtain Bonds for Probate Court Here.
Unnatural Estate Plans?
Legal experts note that when siblings are not treated equally in an estate plan, or when a child is disinherited, the resulting disappointments can lead to litigation. Similarly, surprises, like unexpected gifts to charity or to a beneficiary outside the anticipated family/friend circle, frequently result in legal contests. Clearly communicating intentions and expectations in families is key to avoiding probate litigation. Sometimes, the preparation of a letter of instruction is a helpful way to express and document the intentions behind decisions made in a will or trust. Though not a legal document, a letter of instruction can be useful if grieving family members find themselves wondering about the arrangements made for the estate. Documenting gifts that are given, received, or intended is another smart way to mitigate the risk of probate litigation.
Important To Know: Standing?
Probate litigation can be costly and time-consuming. Feeling slighted, in and of itself does not necessarily validate a path of litigation. As Probate Stars explain:
Whether or not you have standing is a threshold question to ask before pursuing inheritance litigation. Generally, you have standing if you will be affected by the outcome of the litigation. If you are challenging the purported last will of the decedent, you have to either be a beneficiary under the prior will, or be an heir at law if there is no prior will. To challenge a trustee’s administration of a trust, you have to be a beneficiary of the trust. In order to demand that assets are returned to decedent’s estate, you have to be an estate beneficiary. If you are not going to benefit from a successful result of the litigation, you do not have standing.
Before initiating inheritance litigation over a will or a trust, it is important to ask yourself if there is a reasonable explanation that you were not named as a beneficiary. If you did not have contact with the decedent for the last five years, or never got along with the decedent, a court is unlikely to find it shocking that you were not named a beneficiary. Perhaps you are successful in your own right. Decedents might have named other persons as beneficiaries because they are less fortunate. It is critical to consider if your situation is one that a court will feel compelled to “make right” by overturning the decedent’s will or trust.
News for Inheritance Litigation Lawyers
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