Sometimes the death of a person sets off a chain reaction of others coming in to stake their claim on a portion of the estate. Even if you have a valid will, anyone can legally challenge how it is written. Estate litigation can be filed by:
- People who are included in the will (those who think they deserve more than what was specified in the will)
- Those who are left out of the will (ex-spouses, stepchildren, business partners, creditors, caregivers, etc.)
This can happen to estates of any size and any value. The situation gets even stickier if the deceased did not create a will and the courts end up distributing the estate pursuant to the law of intestacy.
Common Reasons For Estate Litigation
Greed, self-entitlement, family infighting: you may think that these are the only reasons why a person would sue to get more from a deceased person’s estate. However, in order to effectively challenge a will or litigate issues surrounding an estate, there must be a valid reason for the estate litigation. It is inappropriate to file something with the Court just because you are upset with the contents of the will or you dislike the Personal Representative. Here are 6 common reasons why a will or estate litigation might occur:
- Coercion: There may be proof that the person who made the will was intimidated by another person to make certain stipulations in the will to include or exclude people, award possessions to a specific person, etc. This could make the will invalid, leaving the courts to decide how the estate will be divided. This is also called undue influence.
- Mental Incapacity: If the writer of the will experiences a lapse in judgement due to mental illness or injury – when the will is being created or modified – that will could be declared invalid. This is also called lack of testamentary capacity.
- Executor Abuse: The executor of the estate handles the distribution of the assets and ties up all loose ends regarding debts, taxes, etc. Any mishandling of the estate (theft, forgery, etc.) could be cause for estate litigation and result in the appointment of a new executor. This type of litigation is called breach of fiduciary duty.
- Creditors: People or companies that are owed money by the deceased can sue to get payments from the estate if this is not already being handled by the executor.
- Conflicting Provisions in the Will: If the will contains conflicting provisions, the executor or an interested person in the estate can file a petition with the Court to construe the will to determine which provision controls.
- Division of Assets: Sometimes people left out of the will have very legitimate claims to personal property from the estate. In these cases, they may sue for possession of specific items.
If you find yourself in a situation where you feel someone’s will should be legally challenged, you have the right to take action. Unless you have extensive experience with estate litigation law, it is advisable to hire an attorney to help you through the process. Hiring an experienced probate litigator will help you fully understand your rights and help you know if you have a real case to file with the courts. Spencer Crona is a Denver estate litigation lawyer at Brown & Crona, LLC who advocates for the rights of his clients.
To get help contesting a will in Denver or to get help creating a will that is less susceptible to challenge, contact Brown & Crona, LLC at (303) 339-3750 or send us a message online to schedule a meeting.