Estate planning documents such as wills and trusts should ideally reflect the final wishes of those who draft and execute them. However, this isn’t always the case. Unhappy family members may suspect they were wrongfully excluded from an inheritance. Alleged fiduciary breaches can pit heirs against executors and trustees. In some cases, there are even allegations of fraud. These and other estate and trust controversies can and often do result in litigation, but alternative dispute resolution may offer a way of settling the matter outside of court.
You may be an heir who has questions about the validity of an estate planning document or the conduct of a fiduciary. On the other hand, you may be an executor or trustee who’s been accused of wrongdoing. No matter the type of estate and trust controversy you’re involved with, SederLaw’s legal team is ready to assist.
The Types Of Estate & Trust Controversies We Help With
An estate and trust controversy can affect any relationship among executors, trustees, beneficiaries, creditors, and others with an interest in the estate. It may also touch on the probate process or even involve the government. Our dedicated Estates & Trusts attorneys have experience with a wide range of such matters, including but not limited to:
Will and Trust Challenges
Heirs often contest the validity of a will after they were excluded from an inheritance or there were questionable circumstances under which the will was executed. Reasons to challenge a will include:
- Undue influence. This exists where an individual exerted pressure on the testator (person who executed the will) to make a sudden or unusual change to the will, often right before death.
- Lack of testamentary capacity. An individual must be of sound mind, and understand what they are doing, to execute a will. Dementia, mental illness, or being under the influence of drugs at the time of execution can raise questions of testamentary capacity.
- Lack of formality. A will must meet certain statutory requirements to be valid. The absence of a signature, a witness’s signature, or proper notarization could call the document into question.
- Fraud. Evidence of forgery, missing or replaced pages, and the like could be evidence that the will is fraudulent.
Trusts can be challenged for many of the same reasons that wills can, although the process for doing so is different.
Breaches of Fiduciary Duties
Executors and trustees are considered fiduciaries. That means the law requires them to act in the best interests of heirs and beneficiaries. A breach occurs when the executor or trustee fails to abide by their duties in some way. There are a number of remedies that an unhappy heir or beneficiary may seek, up to and including the removal of the executor or trustee.
A claim of a breach of fiduciary duty may involve:
- Theft from an estate or trust
- Conflict of interest
- Favoring certain beneficiaries over others
- Incompetence (e.g. poor investment decisions)
Misappropriation of Estate Assets
Claims involving misappropriation may be raised against an executor or trustee. But they can also be asserted against other heirs or beneficiaries. For instance, after the death of a testator, a relative may steal something from the testator’s home that was meant for someone else to inherit. Misappropriation claims are serious because money, property, and other assets can quickly vanish and be difficult to recover.
Trust disputes between beneficiaries, or between beneficiaries and trustees, are relatively common. Just as with will contests, an unhappy beneficiary must have a valid reason for taking legal action. Simply being unhappy with what you are entitled to under a trust is not enough. But if you have questions about the validity of the trust or the conduct of another beneficiary or trustee, reach out to an attorney.
Estates must generally pay creditors of the deceased before heirs may inherit. That doesn’t mean, however, that all creditor claims are legitimate. False claims abound and could deplete the value of the estate if they are paid without due diligence. If an executor wrongly pays a creditor who was not entitled to estate assets, the heirs could have a claim against him or her.
Probate is the process by which a last will and testament is determined to be valid. There are a number of steps involved with probate, from paying estate debts to distributing assets to heirs. At any stage of the process, a dispute may arise between or among heirs, the executor, creditors, and others. Our attorneys can represent you, regardless of your interest in the matter.
Estate and Trust Tax Controversies
Estates must also pay state and federal taxes. Taxing authorities, such as the Internal Revenue Service, may allege that an estate has failed this obligation. Without a strong legal defense, the estate could be mired in expensive and unnecessary legal problems. Not all estates and trusts law firms have experience with tax issues, but SederLaw has a dedicated Tax Law team that can assist with disputes involving estates.
Do All Estate & Trust Controversies Result In Litigation?
Court action is sometimes necessary or even desirable to resolve an estate and trust controversy. For instance, a trustee who is abusing his or her authority but refuses to step aside may need to be forcibly removed by a judge. However, these disputes may be settled outside of court by means of mediation, negotiation, or other alternative dispute resolution methods.
Out-of-court settlements offer a number of advantages over traditional litigation, including the potential to save time and money. Where possible, your lawyer will explore this avenue of handling your case.
Contact Our Worcester Estate & Trust Controversies Attorney Today!
Our goal at SederLaw is to expeditiously resolve any legal problems involving your estate or trust so your family can move on. Having experienced legal counsel is essential, regardless of whether you are an executor, trustee, heir, beneficiary, or someone else with an interest in the trust or estate. Connect with SederLaw’s Estates & Trusts team today to learn more.
SederLaw helps clients with estate and trust controversies in Worcester from their primary office as well as clients throughout MetroWest from their Westborough office.