The probate process is complex under normal circumstances, but certain factors can add significant complexity - and contentious disputes - to the equation.
In a perfect world, the probate process will run smoothly and there will be no significant disputes between surviving family members and others with interest in the estate. However, it is always wise to prepare for the worst and watch for warning signs that could erupt into costly and destructive legal battles. A few factors that can lead to estate disputes include:
- A second marriage: Many people who get married for the second time update their estate plans to make sure the former spouse and the children from the prior relationship are treated fairly. Failure to do so can result in contentious disputes between the surviving spouse and former spouses and/or the decedent's children. Addressing these concerns through proactive estate planning is the best way to avoid these messy conflicts. When such disputes arise, however, it is critical to work with an attorney who can protect your interests.
- Undue influence: One factor that can throw key elements of an estate plan into question is when a family member, friend or neighbor exerted a questionable amount of influence over the decedent. The person exerting the influence may have good intentions or may not-this is often the subject of contentious will disputes. You should seek the advice of an experienced estate litigation attorney if there were significant changes to a will in the waning years of the decedent's life, and the changes stand to benefit a caregiver or confidant to an unusual degree.
- Distrust in the executor: Questions about the conduct of the estate executor can quickly derail the probate process. It is not uncommon for estate beneficiaries to accuse executors of breach of fiduciary duty, self dealing, fraud and other unlawful acts. Whether you are an executor yourself or you have concerns about the conduct of an executor, a knowledgeable probate lawyer can help you understand your rights and responsibilities under the law.
Estate disputes, if not properly handled, can tear families apart. However, with skilled legal guidance it is often possible to resolve disputes in an amicable, cost-effective manner.
The attorneys at Ziegler Metzger are here to protect your rights while sparing you and your family members from legal disputes that could cause irreparable financial and emotional harm.