Estate planning disputes can come up when the plan is being executed, following the death of the owner of the estate (the “decedent”). Alternatively, a dispute may come up during the planning of the estate. In either case, it is important to have good estate planning. 

A thorough estate plan should both cover details meticulously, and reflect a lot of careful thought. There are some changes in circumstance that may not end up being included in the estate plan, but it is still necessary to create an estate plan that allows for later adjustments based on such life changes.

Despite good estate planning, there is still the possibility that disputes will arise. There are many reasons why this might occur. Below are some of the types of disputes over an estate that are seen more frequently:

  • Disputes over property distribution:
    • For instance, disputes where the decedent intended for someone to receive certain property, but did not change their estate plan to reflect this; 
    • Conflicts where the property has been distributed unfairly, or inequitably;
  • Disputes as to the validity of the will and the estate: For example, disputes over the possibility that the will was not executed properly;
  • Conflicts with the estate executor or administrator:
    • An executor is the person appointed to manage the estate after the person passes away. Conflicts may exist where the executor is engaged in some form of mismanagement of the estate, to include fraud;
    • Beliefs that the executor was chosen poorly;
  • Issues involving sudden incapacitation or disability:
    • Issues with the decedent being coerced into making a will change (undue influence); and
    • Disputes where the decedent in general did not understand what they were doing when they made any changes to their estate plan (incompetence).

There are certain types of family issues that can cause disputes to arise during the execution of the estate plan. Rivalries among siblings, and later marriages of the decedent, can cause disagreements among the various parties who stand to inherit (or believe they do).

A decedent’s will often describes the way the estate plan will be executed. This is not, however, the only aspect of estate planning to be aware of. Much estate planning can be handled through means other than the written will. Other financial instruments and planning may be implemented in order to create a good estate plan.

What are Some Remedies for Estate Planning Disputes?

In the event of one of the disputes listed above, what can be done to remedy the situation? It will depend on the particular dispute. It may also depend on the people involved. There are likely to be a number of parties to any dispute over the will, because there will be multiple inheritors interested in the outcome. 

Here are some commonly used remedies for estate planning disputes:

  • Removal of the executor: In the case of a dispute involving the executor, it may be necessary to have the executor removed and replaced. It can be difficult to find an executor with whom none of the parties to the will are dissatisfied. A neutral outside party can be a good choice (someone who doesn’t stand to inherit);
  • Litigation of the dispute: In order to do this, a person must have standing, or be listed as one of the inheritors of the decedent. They must also have sufficient grounds for their claim. Litigation may result in:
    • Damages award: A party may receive monetary damages if they can prove they have experienced a financial loss because of mismanagement of estate moneys, or some other issue;
    • Redistribution of property: In the event that property was incorrectly distributed, a court may rule that it should be redistributed, according to the wishes of the decedent as laid out in their estate plan;
  • Mediation: This can be used to settle matters more amicably, or in cases where confidentiality is needed.

It may be possible to resolve a dispute in a manner that is even more informal than mediation. It’s possible for parties to the dispute to resolve them simply by having discussions regarding what everyone is willing to do to resolve the dispute. This kind of resolution has the advantage of being both less costly and speedier than a mediation or lawsuit. This, of course, is more likely to work when the dispute is one that is relatively minor.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Assistance with Estate Planning Matters?

When considering the distribution of one’s property following death, it is important to consider thorough estate planning. Without a will, and without estate planning, it is clear that disputes may arise easily. This is particularly true in the case of larger, more complex estates involving large amounts of valuable property. 

Good estate planning can help avoid disputes partially or entirely. It may be necessary to hire an estate planning lawyer to help with the planning of your estate. The attorney will know laws concerning estates, wills, trusts and tax in your jurisdiction, and can provide needed expert help. The attorney can also represent your interests in court if it becomes necessary.