Probate 101: What Happens During An Estate Dispute?
The probate and estate administration process oftentimes occurs without issue. In an ideal world, with a will or estate plan in place, the designated executor or administrator of the estate will follow the plan that is outlined and few conflicts will arise within the family. However, the process isn’t always that easy.
At my law firm, Albert F. Pennisi, P.C., I offer dedicated support for New York clients who are involved in difficult estate disputes. Probate litigation is a notoriously challenging area of the law, and these disputes have a tendency to tear families apart. You need an attorney with the experience and insight to make the process as efficient as possible.
Types Of Estate Disputes
As a representative who is executing or administering the estate, you may have to defend yourself against malicious claims from family members of the lost loved one. As an heir or beneficiary, you may need to file a claim against the executor of the estate or dispute the validity of the will itself in order to receive a fair outcome. There is a wide range of issues that may arise during the probate process, some of which are outlined below.
Will contests: When you believe the will to be invalid, you may be able to dispute that will before the court. However, there are typically only five grounds that may be used to dispute a will in New York.
- Undue influence or duress, if you believe someone wrongfully manipulated your loved one or convinced them under extreme pressure to draft or revise their will for personal benefit
- Fraud, when someone knowingly misleads your loved one or lies to them so they will sign an unfair will
- Mental incapacity, if you believe your loved one created or signed their will while not being of sound mind
- Lack of validity, when your loved one did not follow the proper legal procedure when drafting their will
- Forgery, if you believe someone else forged your loved one’s signature or part of their will
Breach of fiduciary duty: Executors, trustees and administrators have a fiduciary duty to the decedent and the beneficiaries of the estate. This means they are legally bound to administer the estate accurately and efficiently. When the executor is accused of siphoning off estate assets, gifting themselves money from the estate or commingling assets, a beneficiary may file a breach of fiduciary duty claim before the court.
Kinship disputes: If you are closely related to the deceased and were left out of the will, or believe you are otherwise entitled to assets in the estate, you may have a kinship case. These cases often arise when there is a close family member who lives in another country who was left out of the estate, or in cases where the decedent’s cousins have legal claim to part of the estate (when there are no living spouses, children, siblings, parents, grandparents, nieces or nephews to inherit). In these cases, kinship must be proven in order to move forward with your claim.
Claims against the estate: When your loved one dies with significant debts, a creditor may make a legal claim against the estate before any assets are distributed. In many of these cases, disputes between the creditor and the executor, administrator, beneficiary or family member of the decedent may arise.
What Does The Estate Dispute Process Look Like?
If you are filing a claim against another party, you want to first be sure you have the proper grounds to introduce a lawsuit. If you believe you meet one of the criteria above, or there is another reason you believe you are entitled to file a claim, always seek advice from a probate attorney on how to get started.
Once you are ready to file your claim, a motion will need to be drafted and filed with the New York Surrogate’s Court. Whether you are the plaintiff or the defendant, you will want to begin organizing all paperwork and evidence that you believe will support your side of the argument. This may include testimony from subject matter experts, doctors, family members and any witnesses who may support your claim.
As the case proceeds, your attorney will walk you through the legal steps and present all evidence before the court. Probate litigation is notorious for how long it may take in court. While a more experienced attorney may help move your case along as efficiently as possible, it still may take several years for your case to get resolved. In the end, the court will have the final say after hearing all evidence and testimony on the matter.
Insight Backed By Over 45 Years Of Legal Experience
These cases can be very difficult to prove, and even more difficult to endure. At the law office of Albert F. Pennisi, P.C., I offer qualified legal counsel to those in New York who are affected by a will or estate dispute. Over my years of practicing law, I have served as counsel to the New York Department of Taxation and Finance for estate and gift tax matters, and have amassed extensive experience in will contests and contested kinship matters. I use this experience to help a range of executors, heirs, beneficiaries and family members who are facing difficult estate disputes.
For questions about the probate process or to see if you have an estate dispute case, reach out to my office for a free 30-minute consultation. Call 718-509-6344 to get started today.