The loss of a parent, grandparent or loved one can devastate beneficiaries and those they leave behind. It can also change the dynamic between the survivors as they deal with their loss – what was once harmonious can become contentious. Moreover, even the most carefully drafted estate plan that reflects the decedent’s decisions can cause disagreements over the division of assets, control of the estate and other matters handled during probate. This can lead to litigation.
Common causes of probate litigation
The details of each case and estate are different, but these are some common reasons for legal disputes:
- Picking the wrong executor: The executor executes the plans outlined in the estate plan or will. It is a challenging job that involves a lot of paperwork and can involve pressure from family members. Sometimes the executor selected can no longer handle the job or may never have been a suitable choice to do the work. Even if they have the skills and disposition, they may not want to do the job.
- Breach of fiduciary duty: This occurs when the executor fails to perform their obligations or abuses the power and responsibility. It can involve misuse of funds, not following the will or estate plan’s terms or other issues.
- Contested will: There may be more than one version of a will, or there were changes within the family where the decedent divorced or remarried but did not update their will. There may be other circumstances that make the will obsolete or partially obsolete. There may even be ambiguities or mistakes in the will that require court interpretation.
- Assets outside Kentucky: Probate in Kentucky only involves holdings in the state. Vacation homes, investments or other assets of value in other states must be addressed by going through the legal system in the state where they are located.
- Fighting creditors: Part of the probate process is collecting money owed and settling all outstanding debts. This is resolved before distributing assets to beneficiaries, but the heirs may question whether the debt is valid. The creditor could be an individual, business or government entity.
Not hiring an attorney is another mistake
A lawyer representing the estate or the beneficiaries can be beneficial. Not only do they understand the probate process and how to litigate disputes, but they can also provide knowledgeable guidance throughout the process to help avoid unnecessary disputes. This valuable service leaves clients to focus on moving on with their own lives, knowing they have someone protecting their best interests.