When a person dies leaving possessions, these possessions must be passed down to beneficiaries. The legal process by which this is done is called probate. Normally, there will be an executor named in the decedent’s will. If a will is absent, the court will have to appoint an estate administrator. Whether executor or estate administrator, they will be responsible for settling estate debts, taxes, and disbursement of the estate. In most cases, the executor hires a probate attorney for professional and legal guidance during this process.
Estate litigation refers to any lawsuit resulting from disputes during probate. Possibly there is an issue of:
- Beneficiaries accusing the executor (or administrator) of mismanaging the estate, such as using up the funds for personal use or failure to pay estate tax on time
- A dissatisfied party challenging the validity of the will
- A beneficiary claiming to have been cheated, for example they claim the testator signed the will under undue influence
- Heirs squabbling for property.
Any of these issues can lead to estate litigation.
When beneficiaries and executors disagree during probate, the law allows the aggrieved party to file a lawsuit in court. This automatically gives room for a trial, that is, the estate litigation. The probate attorney whom the executor has hired at the beginning of probate will then offer him legal representation during the trial.
Probate attorneys play a key role during probate to ensure that estate litigation is avoided. This is because such legal proceedings slow down probate and lead to additional expenses. However, estate litigation may still occur at any time. If you as an executor have not hired a probate lawyer at the beginning of probate, or you’re a beneficiary looking to contest the will, it is important you hire a probate lawyer now for legal representation.
Roles of probate attorneys in estate litigation
Simply put, the role of a probate attorney in estate litigation is to advocate the claims of their client in a trial to ensure that the estate is probated lawfully. A probate lawyer may defend executors and trustees against ungrateful beneficiaries, or represent the beneficiaries against slothful and fraudulent executors.
Litigation cases probate attorneys handle
Probate attorneys handle different kinds of estate litigation including:
- Will contests
- Trust contests
- Breach of fiduciary contract
- Dispute about creditor claims
- Elder abuse
- Estate planning malpractice
- Fee disputes
- Probate fraud
- Removal of executor/trustee
- Guardianship dispute
- Tenant removal from estate property
- And lots more.
A disgruntled party may contest the will because they believe it to be invalid, altered, or preceding a later will. The disgruntled party likely will be a beneficiary or family of the deceased. The probate attorney in this case will serve to prove their claim in court.
Trust lawsuits mostly have to do with how the trustee is managing the assets under their care. Also, it can be about challenging the validity of the trust just like a will contest.
Breach of fiduciary contract
There is breach of fiduciary contract when the executor, trustee, attorney-in-fact, or guardian fails to live up to their responsibility. In this case, the person(s) under their care may seek to remove authority from their hands or reclaim lost funds from them.
Dispute about creditor claims
Some creditor claims may not be legitimate.
Elders often grant another individual the authority to handle their finances. And it’s not uncommon to find cases where the fiduciary uses up the elder’s estate for personal gain. Such person can also influence the elder’s will. If such misconduct is found, the loved ones can litigate with the help of a probate attorney.
Removal of executor/trustee
If the executor or trustee has failed in their duties, the beneficiaries are allowed to file for their removal. A probate lawyer can help to prove their claim in court.
It is possible that a real property of the decedent is on rental and there are renters or even family members of the deceased living in the property. Their refusal to leave may lead to estate litigation. If you’re an executor, get help from a probate attorney for assistance on how to evict tenants in a property you have to pass to a beneficiary.
We can help
Our probate attorneys are expert in estate litigation in New York. Whether you’re an executor an seek defense against ungrateful beneficiaries, or you’re a beneficiary looking to challenge the executor for misconduct, we’ve got you covered!
Let us go to trial on your behalf and give you the justice you deserve.
Call us today.