Common Disputes that Lead to Estate Litigation

When someone creates a will or trust, he or she assumes that the document will be iron-clad in terms of legality and clarity. However, this is unfortunately not always the case. Disputes can arise when loved ones do not agree with the will or trust. Conflict regarding the validity of an estate planning instrument can also lead to litigation.

The most common causes of disputes that lead to litigation are the result of poor planning or failure to update your estate documents after you have a major life change. Below are a few examples of situations that may lead to estate litigation after your passing. Taking steps to avoid these situations can save your loved ones a great deal of emotional turmoil, time, and expense.

Second Marriages

You should update your estate plan after any change in your marital status. Second marriages, especially when the marriages involve children, can make estate planning more difficult and complicated. A failure to take steps to update your plan can result in the wrong parties receiving assets, which can lead to conflict.

In other situations, even when you do update your estate documents, children from either marriage or the current spouse can have hard feelings regarding who gets what after you pass. These hurt feelings can result in litigation in some circumstances.

Beneficiaries’ Suspicion of the Executor

The executor of the estate plays a vital role in asset distribution. When beneficiaries or heirs do not like how the executor is performing his or her duties or does not trust the executor’s judgment, that can lead to disputes. Disagreements between the trustee and beneficiaries (or even those who are not included in the estate documents) can breed litigation.

Situations where the administrator engages in fraud, deceitful acts, or makes reckless decisions, can also result in litigation. Mismanagement or self-dealing is more common than many might think, and beneficiaries often should initiate a lawsuit in those situations.

Signs of Coercion or Undue Influence

Estate planning tools like trusts and wills should be created without intimidation or excessive influence. No one should ever be tricked into adding someone to his or her will or leaving more money to one person over any other. Signs of this type of fraud or trickery can lead to litigation. For example, if a trust document or will is changed suddenly without explanation, undue influence may be the cause. If this is the case, portions or all of the estate planning document may be invalidated.

As individuals age, their ability to make sound decisions sometimes decreases. Unsavory family members, friends, or caregivers may try to take advantage of these people to increase their inheritance. This unethical behavior will often lead to litigation.

Keeping your estate planning documents updated and choosing your executor carefully can help your family and friends avoid many expensive and time-consuming disputes. An experienced estate planning attorney can assist you with your estate planning needs to decrease the occurrence of estate litigation. Contact us for more information.