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Common Estate Disputes

The Elder & Disability Law Firm, APC  Aug. 19, 2022

Estate planning is the process of creating the legal documents necessary to designate how you want your property and assets to be divided among your loved ones when you’re gone. Some estate plans are straightforward, others not.   

Say, for instance, you’ve been married to the same spouse for all your life, and the two of you have one child. Your estate plan can focus on providing for those two, and unless the child or spouse feels somehow shortchanged, your estate plan should go forward without a hitch or dispute.  

But life is not always that simple. In this day and age, many people end up marrying more than once and even have children with different spouses, and you may even have stepchildren. With this many presumed beneficiaries, disputes can easily arise over your estate plan, even before you’re gone from the earth.  

Heading off disputes before they materialize is a critical goal of estate planning. This means you need the assistance of a proficient and knowledgeable estate planning attorney, who can help you anticipate obstacles and objections from beneficiaries and take them into account in your estate documents.  

If you’re in the process of creating or updating an estate plan in or around Redlands, California, contact The Elder & Disability Law Firm, APC, for comprehensive advice on anticipating disputes and objections and creating legal documents that protect your wishes for your loved ones. The team proudly serves clients throughout Southern California, including Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside, and Palm Springs. 

Examples of Estate Disputes  

Most disputes arise once the owner of the estate – the one who created the estate plan – has passed away, and it’s time to distribute assets to beneficiaries. Although, this does not mean that disputes won’t surface while the owner is still alive.   

If beneficiaries have access to the owner’s last will and testament or living trust, they may question their share – or lack thereof – of the estate. Even if they just hear through the proverbial grapevine who’s getting what, objections can arise.   

“Why did my sister get so much and me so little?” might be one such common objection. Adult children might also object that a later spouse who is not their mother stands to end up with the lion’s share of the decedent’s estate.  

That’s why your estate planning document should also explain your thinking. If the issue is why one adult child’s sister gets more than he did, as in the example above, the will or trust could state that the brother is getting less because you gave him the money for a down payment on his home. 

Even with justifications built into the estate documents, disputes can arise. Disputes take different forms. For instance, the adult brother who feels shortchanged might argue that his sister exerted undue influence on the father to get a bigger share. This challenge would then have to be resolved through a legal process.  

A disputant could also argue that, when the will or trust was executed, the estate owner was not of sound mind, and thus the will or trust should not be accepted. Another argument is that there exist conflicting versions of the same will or trust.  

If the decedent left a will that is going through probate court proceedings, problems may arise with the conduct of the executor of the will. The executor is the personal representative named in the will, whom the court appoints to oversee the process of distributing assets to creditors and beneficiaries.   

The executor has a fiduciary duty to follow the dictates of the will. Beneficiaries might object that the executor is not following the wishes of the decedent or is somehow skimming off assets for personal gain.   

They can then petition the court for a change in executors, but the court will not allow trivial disputes to be the deciding factor. There must be a breach of a fiduciary rule or something in that order to justify a change in executors. 

Remedies for Estate Disputes 

This is again where an experienced, knowledgeable attorney can prove invaluable. If you leave a copy of your will or living trust with your attorney, your attorney can later testify to your intentions and objectives in creating your estate plan.  

Your attorney can also step in to help mediate or resolve disputes before they end up being legally adjudicated. The attorney can also help with issues regarding the executor or trustee. If a legal challenge does arise, your attorney can also speak for the interest of the beneficiaries named in your estate plan. 

Experienced Guidance
When You Need It Most 

Estate planning is designed to create peace of mind for you and your loved ones as you move forward in life. No one wants to deal with disputes, but they often arise and must be dealt with. Having an experienced estate planning attorney involved from the beginning through the resolution of the will or trust is vital to ensure your wishes are honored.  

If you’re starting out on estate planning, or if you have a plan and need a periodic review (perhaps your life situation has changed), rely on the estate planning team at The Elder & Disability Law Firm, APC. The team proudly serves clients in and around Redlands, California, and nearby communities such as Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside, and Palm Springs.