In Real Estate Law

Estate disputes can arise for various reasons, often leading to complex legal proceedings and emotional turmoil among family members. Understanding the underlying causes of Estates dispute is important for resolving conflicts promptly and fairly. 

In British Columbia, estate litigation advice is readily available to assist individuals in navigating the estate administration process and seeking legal remedies when necessary.

What is Estate Disputes?

Estate disputes refer to conflicts when assessing a deceased individual’s assets and managing their estate affairs. These disputes can take various forms, including challenges to the validity of the deceased’s will, disagreements regarding how the deceased’s intentions should be interpreted, or claims of unjust enrichment. 

Estate disputes include any disagreement or contention related to the handling or distribution of the deceased person’s estate.

Preparing an estate grant plan can help prevent disputes over property after someone passes away. However, even with careful planning, family conflicts may still arise. According to Missouri estate litigation lawyer Robert Will, disputes can stem from various motives, including feeling unfairly treated or disagreeing with how assets are distributed. Emotion-driven challenges to wills or trusts often lack a factual basis, which complicates legal proceedings.

In will disputes, there are commonly two perspectives: 

  • The testator who wants to avoid conflicts.
  • The beneficiaries or interested parties who may contest the will.

Estate Dispute Challenges

Estate disputes arise when family members or loved ones feel unfairly treated in a will or trust. Some common issues leading to disputes include:

Document Deficiencies

If there are mistakes or errors in how the will or trust was created, such as legal flaws, it can be challenged in probate court.

Lack of Mental Capacity

If it can be proven that the person creating the will or trust didn’t have the mental capacity to do so, the document’s validity can be contested.

Undue Influence

If it’s believed that the person creating the document was manipulated or pressured into certain decisions, the document can be challenged.

Breach of Fiduciary Duty

This occurs when a representative fails in their responsibilities, such as mishandling assets or not acting in the best interests of the person they represent.

These representatives include:

Personal Representative (Executor) Oversees estate administration.
Healthcare Power of Attorney Makes medical decisions if the individual is incapacitated.
Financial Power of Attorney Makes financial decisions if the individual is unable to.
Trustee Oversees trust administration.

Who Can Contest a Will?

Estate disputes occur for various reasons, even without a formal will or estate plan. In such cases, any interested party can contest court decisions. To qualify as an interested party, one must have “standing” and valid grounds for challenging the will. 

  • “Standing” means having a financial stake in the estate. This includes spouses, children (including stepchildren and adopted children), other relatives, individuals mentioned in the decedent’s intentions, and third parties like creditors. These individuals have the right to challenge the last will-maker or other arrangements about the estate.

Common Causes of Estate Disputes

Estate disputes happen when people disagree about how assets should be divided after someone dies. Here are some common reasons why commencing such a claim occurs:

Wills Variation Claim

In places like British Columbia, Canada, family members can challenge how assets are distributed if they feel they weren’t given enough in the will. They might argue that the deceased didn’t provide fairly for their spouse or children.

Grounds for Estate Litigation involving Wills commonly revolve around these key points:

Lack of Testamentary Capacity This means the deceased person might not have been legally capable of making or changing a will. The dispute focuses on whether they understood what they were doing, including their property and who would inherit it.
Undue Influence This claim suggests that someone pressured or manipulated the deceased into having changes to their will that didn’t reflect their true wishes. Often, it’s to benefit the influencer.
Due Execution These disputes involve how the will was created, not how assets are distributed. If there are concerns about whether the will followed legal procedures, like having witnesses or proper signatures, it could lead to a legal challenge.

Undue Influence

Sometimes, there are suspicions that someone pressured or manipulated the deceased into changing their will. This could happen if a caregiver, family member, or friend convinced the deceased to make changes that didn’t reflect their wishes.

Disputes over Real Property

Assets like land or buildings can cause conflicts among beneficiaries, especially if they disagree about dividing or using them. Arguments might arise about who owns what, how much property is worth, or if it should be sold or kept.

Personal Representative Disputes

Family members or others involved might disagree about who’s in charge of executing the will’s instructions. They might argue about whether the person named in the will is capable or fair in managing the estate.

Validity of the Will

Sometimes, there are doubts about the will’s legitimacy. People might question if the deceased was mentally capable when they made the will or if someone forced or tricked them into making certain decisions.

Practical Considerations in Challenging a Will

When considering challenging a will or trust, Barbara Weltman, a popular author from Brooklyn Law School, says having a clear plan for what happens if you succeed is important. For instance, if there’s an older will or trust, would it give you the desired outcome? Or would the state’s laws apply, which might not be favourable?

Sometimes, unravelling a will involves tracing through multiple layers of changes. You may need to prove issues like undue influence or lack of capacity for each amendment that conflicts with your desired outcome.

Challenging a will can be complicated, expensive, and emotionally charged. If the estate’s value is low or creditors will take a significant share, it might not be worth contesting, even if you feel strongly about it.

While upholding the deceased’s true wishes is important, it is necessary to weigh the costs and benefits before taking legal action. Consulting with a lawyer early is wise, as the window for challenging a will is often short in most states—usually just a few months.  

The Estate Administration Process

  1. Grant of Probate: This legally issued document verifies the verification of a deceased person’s will and authorizes the executor to administer the estate.
  2. Representation Grant: In cases where the deceased did not leave a will, the court may issue a representation grant to appoint a personal representative to administer the estate.
  3. Distribution of Assets: The representative is the one who must gather the deceased’s assets, pay off debts and taxes, and distribute the left assets to the beneficiaries based on the terms of the will or the laws of intestacy.

Questions to Ask an Estate Litigation Attorney

Many estate planning lawyers provide free initial consultations so that you can seek legal advice regarding your estate without any upfront costs. After meeting with the attorney and getting satisfactory answers, you can establish an attorney-client relationship.

Here are the questions you can ask to an Estate Litigation Attorney:

  • What are your fees and billing options? 

Understanding the legal costs or how the attorney charges for their services is important.

  • Do I have legal standing to challenge a will or living trust? 

This helps you understand if you can contest the legal document.

  • Does it make practical sense for me to contest a will? 

Determine if it’s worth resolving disputes based on your specific situation.

  • How long and expensive will it be to contest a will? 

Knowing the potential time and cost involved prepares you for what to expect.

  • Does the will have a no-contest clause? 

Understanding any clauses that might affect your challenge is important.

 

Law Concept Real Estate Law

 

Seek Legal Advice from a Trusted Estates Dispute Lawyer

Estate disputes can be tough on everyone. But you can handle the process better by knowing what usually causes them, getting advice from a trusted lawyer, and looking for ways to solve them. 

Talk to a trusted estate dispute lawyer like Sidhu Legal. We can help you handle challenges, protect your rights, and find a fair solution that respects your loved one’s wishes and interests. Legal advice can give you clarity and support during tough times so you can manage estate matters with confidence and peace of mind.

Contact us today.

Frequently Asked Questions

What should I do if I suspect something’s wrong with the Will?

If you suspect foul play, like someone being forced or tricked into making the will, seek legal advice immediately. A good estate lawyer can guide you on what to do next.

How long does it take to resolve Estate Disputes?

It can vary greatly. Simple issues might be solved quickly, but if things get complicated or go to court, it could take months or even years to resolve.

Can we stop Estate Disputes from happening?

While we can’t guarantee avoiding disputes altogether, keeping your will updated, talking openly with your family about your wishes, picking a trustworthy executor, and getting legal help when making or changing your will can lower the chances of conflicts.

What if someone dies without a Will?

If someone passes away without a will, their property will be divided according to their area’s laws of intestacy or succession act. Usually, it goes to their closest family members, such as spouses, kids, parents, or siblings, ensuring the estate assets are distributed. The aim is to divide the deceased’s estate in a manner that is considered estate fairly to all rightful heirs.

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