Common Estate Disputes
Jan. 3, 2023
There can be considerable drama in the wake of someone’s death. Those who believed the decedent was leaving them something and those who believed they should inherit may object to the administration of the estate for various reasons. Grief, anger, and disappointment are all strong emotional motivators for discontent.
If the decedent died without an estate plan, the probate court makes the final decisions regarding the distribution of the estate’s assets. If the decedent created an estate plan, they specify who they want to benefit and to what degree. However, that does not mean everyone will agree or will believe the plan or its administration is being fairly handled.
When disputes arise in the administration of an estate, clients from Westerville, New Albany, Worthington, Delaware County, and Franklin County, Ohio, turn to The Law Office David G. Bale. They also turn to David Bale when they need to create an estate plan of their own.
What Is an Estate Dispute?
Estate disputes are conflicts that arise during the administration of a decedent’s estate. Family and other interested parties may have disagreements about the choices expressed by the decedent in estate planning documents. They may question the validity of certain documents. They may take issue with the way in which the estate is administered.
Estate planning documents are legal documents. As such, they can be challenged during the probate process. Resolving an estate dispute usually requires representation by an estate planning attorney.
What Are Some Common Estate Disputes?
Of course, the dynamics of an individual estate are unique. The assets, the people involved, and the circumstances differ. However, there are some common estate disputes that arise in Ohio probate courts. Here are five of them:
Most people are familiar with the “sound mind” legal standard for signing a will, power of attorney, or other documents. A party may allege that the decedent lacked the mental capacity to execute estate planning documents. This is referred to as a “lack of testamentary capacity.” Such a dispute often arises when someone believes they were promised something from the decedent but is not left it in the will. If the decedent was suddenly and acutely ill and did not have an estate plan, a party could allege the process was rushed and the will creator did not know what they were doing. In addition, this dispute often arises when someone provides proof of appointment as the decedent’s power of attorney when they may not have been mentally capable of making that decision.
The validity of a will can be challenged. A party can allege the will creator lacked the testamentary capacity to execute one. A party can challenge the revocation of a prior will. Or, a party can find flaws in the will’s execution, such as a lack of disinterested witnesses to the signature of the will-maker.
Undue influence is another common estate dispute. Perhaps the decedent possessed the mental capacity to execute a will or power of attorney but was coerced by someone else to do so. There are many examples of how this could occur. A caregiver might use the gratitude of the patient to talk them into leaving their estate to them. The child of a dependent parent could threaten that parent. The new spouse could deliver an ultimatum about leaving assets to anyone other than the new spouse or the new spouse’s children.
The executor or personal representative is charged with the administration of the estate. Conflicts with the executor may arise if heirs and beneficiaries believe the executor is mishandling it. If the executor fails to be transparent with those who have an interest in the estate, the latter may suspect the executor is hiding information from them. The process of administering an estate in probate takes time. Heirs and beneficiaries get impatient and may feel left out of the process. They also may not understand how the executor is being compensated and the accounting for the estate. It is a good idea for executors to hire an estate planning attorney to help them comply with both the law and with keeping those with an interest in the estate apprised.
Blended families are common these days. This situation makes disputes between the decedent’s first children and subsequent ones common. Older children may believe the will gives them less than they should receive from their parent’s estate and children from a subsequent marriage receive more.
What Are the Remedies for Estate Disputes?
A decedent’s personal assets, other than those with a designated transfer, payable on death, or other beneficiary designation, are subject to probate. The court supervises the administration of the estate. If someone wants to remove an executor, they can petition the court to do so. The petitioner will then need to provide proof of misconduct or incapacity, and the executor will have the opportunity to offer a defense. The judge will render a decision. If the executor is removed, the court will appoint a new personal representative.
Likewise, anyone with an interest in the estate may file a complaint with the probate court. The complaint must include valid reasons for challenging a will or other estate documents. The burden of proof lies with the party filing the complaint. For example, if an heir believes the care provider exerted undue influence over the decedent in a new will, the heir will need to submit evidence to the court that supports that claim.
Challenging a will is not easy. Having an experienced estate planning attorney represent you is a wise decision. Your attorney understands the rules of evidence and what proof is necessary to meet the legal requirements.
Not all estate disputes require litigation. Some may be resolved through mediation among the parties.
Turn to David Bale for Help
Resolving an estate dispute benefits from the legal guidance of a knowledgeable estate planning attorney like David Bale. His years of experience representing clients in Westerville, Ohio, and surrounding communities can work for you.
Regardless of which side of an estate dispute you are on, call The Law Office of David G. Bale today to schedule a consultation. He is here to help.