Resolving estate disputes

Most people avoid the very idea of estate planning. However, it cannot be avoided; it is something that needs to be taken care of. One obstacle, though, is that many people have the wrong idea about estates, believing only wealthy individuals have estates. This is simply not true. An estate consists of all property that an individual owns at the time of death. Anyone who owns property has an estate.

Part of estate planning should include the creation of a will to ensure that a person's wishes are clearly stated in writing with regard to the distribution of his or her property after death to avoid disputes.

Types of disputes

At the time of a person's death, family members and others close to the individual are usually filled with all kinds of emotions. However, there will come a time when the financial affairs of the deceased will have to be dealt with, and in some cases, disputes involving the estate will arise among potential heirs.

When dealing with issues surrounding one's estate, a few types of disputes might arise, including:

  • Will or trust contests
  • Undue influence arguments
  • Disputes involving the improper actions of a trustee in cases where a trust has been established

Individuals who believe that something is amiss with their loved one's estate have options available to them to resolve any doubts and clear up any disputes. For instance, if a person objects to a will, he or she can file a written objection with the court or appear in person at a hearing to state the objection.

Why a will might be challenged

Normally, it is very hard to challenge a will because courts view the document as being the voice of the deceased and, because that person is no longer available to amend or contradict what he or she stated in the will, the court will follow the will. Nevertheless, anyone who might have something to gain from the will can challenge it.

A will dispute might arise if the party bringing the dispute believes that the deceased was subjected to fraud or undue influence, having been coerced or manipulated into leaving a great deal, if not all, of his or her property to the manipulator. A dispute might also arise if an individual believes that the mental capacity of the deceased individual was diminished to such a degree at the time the will was made that he or she was not able to appreciate the consequences of his or her decisions.

How to challenge a will

Individuals who challenge a will and win can have the will voided entirely or in part, and the court will then distribute the property as if there had never been a will. Anyone can make such a challenge. However, it might be wise to seek the assistance of a qualified legal professional who handles estate disputes to explore all possible options.