Estate administration can be a lengthy process. Especially if someone has significant personal property and financial obligations. It can take months to complete the probate process.
Estate or trust administration can become even more difficult and protracted if beneficiaries end up embroiled in a dispute. Probate litigation can consume estate resources and delay the distribution of assets. Disputes can also strain the relationships between those expecting to inherit from an estate or trust. Certain kinds of conflicts are more likely than others to arise during trust or estate administration. The following are the three most common sources of conflict during probate or trust administration.
Disagreements about documentation
Perhaps one family member presented paperwork to the courts that everyone else believes may be fraudulent. Maybe multiple family members worry that someone may have exerted undue influence on the estate plan because changes toward the end of someone’s life benefit one individual at the expense of multiple others. Family members can end up fighting and possibly going to court when there are questions about the legitimacy of testamentary documents.
Concerns about a fiduciary’s conduct
An estate should have a personal representative who distributes resources, while a trust has a trustee who must enforce the terms included in someone’s trust paperwork. The testator or grantor likely put a lot of consideration into selecting that fiduciary. Unfortunately, sometimes people appointed to positions of trust misuse that authority for personal gain. Some fiduciaries embezzle from the estate. Others let their own relationships dictate what they do with estate resources. Some others may not have the time or ability to properly manage a trust or estate. Family members or beneficiaries sometimes take legal action to remove an individual from their role.
Conflict about planning omissions
Trusts generally have a very specific pool of resources and clear terms regarding the distribution of those assets. Wills and estates are more likely to include oversights and omissions. Testators sometimes forget to address their residuary estate or overlook specific assets that are worth thousands of dollars. Families can easily end up fighting over resources that a testator never imagined they would need to include in their estate planning documents. The risk of conflict means that testators should plan very carefully, while trustees and other fiduciaries must follow the law and trust or estate documents very closely.
Being aware of the likely sources of probate or trust disputes may benefit those with an interest in an estate or trust. Seeking legal guidance proactively if trouble starts brewing is generally wise.