Estates wind up going through probate for many reasons, but three are most common. The first would be that someone dies without a last will, requiring the courts to apply intestate succession to the assets someone leaves behind. The second would be that someone did have a last will but their estate includes valuable assets worth enough to require probate supervision or they die with debts.
Unfortunately, probate litigation is the third reason why estates wind up in probate court. Unlike the first two, probate litigation involves people you know and love taking issue with your estate. What are some of the more common reasons that people initiate probate litigation?
To challenge a last will or estate plan
Concern about the validity or accuracy of the estate plan can easily lead to probate litigation. Family members can challenge the purported last wishes of a testator in several circumstances.
They might bring a challenge if they suspect that the person lacked testamentary capacity at the time of planning due to cognitive decline or other medical issues. They might suspect undue influence if a caregiver seems to have put pressure on the testator to change their plan. They could also suspect fraud, like forged signatures or a completely invalid document.
To challenge an executor or a trustee
People also litigate estates when they think that the person managing the estate has made mistakes. An executor or trustee could face challenges from beneficiaries of the estate if they sell assets for less than they are worth, make bad investing decisions or otherwise diminish the value of the assets in the estate.
People can also bring a challenge if they believe the executor has failed to take necessary steps, like submitting documents to the probate records or paying bills on behalf of the estate. Finally, family members may challenge an executor or trustee if they believe this individual violated their fiduciary duty to the estate/trust and its beneficiaries.
The most common reasons for estate litigation often involve family disputes and could lead to a lot of conflict if not resolved appropriately. Protecting yourself as executor or your rights as a beneficiary may require probate court litigation.