In a perfect world, all deceased individuals’ assets would be distributed to their loved ones easily, fairly, and according to their states’ probate laws. In reality, wills can be fabricated, assets can be mishandled, and deceased individuals’ loved ones can have disagreements about how to handle their estates. These conflicts can land families in court, where a judge and jury may have to rule on how to value, locate, and distribute an individual’s assets.
When the executor of a deceased individual’s estate cannot resolve these issues on his or her own, or if the court has to appoint an executor because one was not named, the court can become a significant player in the administration of the individual’s estate. Although litigation can be necessary, it should be approached as a last resort for families facing estate and trust-related disputes. Litigation is expensive and can quickly run through any money an individual’s loved ones would have received from his or her estate. It can also create rifts in families that can be difficult or impossible to rectify.
Why Would Litigation be Necessary in a Trust or Estate Case?
A few examples of trust and estate disputes that can require litigation to resolve include:
- Issues surrounding breaches of fiduciary duty. An individual who is granted the privilege to handle another’s financial affairs, such as a conservator or an individual with financial power of attorney, has what is known as fiduciary duty to the principal. When such an individual acts in a way that is not in the principal’s best interest, a breach of duty has occurred;
Allegations of undue influence over the principal when he or she wrote a will or performed other aspects of estate planning;
Issues related to intestate succession, the distribution of an individual’s assets if he or she died without a valid will;
Challenges to a will’s validity, which can be an accusation of a fabricated will or a lack of capacity on the part of the principal to write a will;
- Disputes regarding the ownership of certain assets, such as whether the principal owned them solely or jointly;
- Disputes regarding the status of assets held in trusts;
- The administration of trusts and distribution of assets held within; and
- Disputes regarding the validity of lifetime transfers.
Work with an Experienced Chicago Trust and Estate Litigation Lawyer
Not every estate planning lawyer has experience with litigation. If you run into an issue with your loved one’s will or the distribution of his or her assets outside a will that creates a dispute within your family, start working with an experienced estate planning litigation lawyer to ensure that the issue is resolved in a fair, appropriate manner. Do not allow yourself to be intimidated into not speaking up about issues that arise with the estate; your loved one had specific plans for his or her assets and as an heir, it is your job to ensure that those wishes are respected.