A will is a legal document regarding the way a person’s property is distributed upon their death. The person creating the will is called the “testator”, while the people receiving the property are called “beneficiaries.” In some cases, even if a will states how the property is to be managed and distributed, there can still be disputes over the will terms or provisions.

A will settlement is basically the legal process by which will contests or disputes are resolved. Will disputes involve disagreements regarding how certain property or money is distributed after the testator becomes deceased. Thus a will settlement, seeks to resolve these types of issues, ideally according to the terms set out in the will itself.

Each will is different from the next, and state laws governing wills can also be different. Thus, will settlements are typically handled on an individual, case-by-case basis by the court. If the person didn’t have a will in place upon their death, then their estate property will need to be handled and distributed through the state probate process

What are Some Common Will Disputes?

Will disputes can involve a wide range of different conflicts and issues. These can include:

  • Disputes Over Beneficiaries: Some persons, often family members, may have disagreements over who should receive the property. For instance, they might claim that a certain person is not actually listed as a beneficiary in the will document.
  • Disputes Over Property Distribution: Probably the most common form of will dispute is where the property distribution is contested. This can include disputes over the amounts distributed, disputes over which persons receive which property, or disputes over the value of the property. Various other property disputes can arise, and can involve small or large amounts in dispute.
  • Disputes Over the Executor: The will executor is the person named (usually in the will document) to manage the estate after the person’s death. This person will be tasked with various responsibilities, including paying off debt, and managing the property distributions. The loved ones, family members, and other beneficiaries may have disputes regarding the executor and may seek a removal of the executor.

These types of disputes can be major and may require the intervention of the court for resolution. Will settlements are a main way these disputes are resolved.

How is a Will Settlement Accomplished?

Will settlement usually begins with a filing through the local court system. This may involve a probate court which typically handles will contests or disputes. The judge may begin by reviewing state laws in order to determine how the property should be distributed. They may also need to decide whether or not any persons have beneficiary rights.

Will settlement can also occur privately between the estate administrator and the person or persons with the specific complaint. This may be a more time-efficient and less costly process than dealing with the state court system. 

However, private negotiations and settlements will still typically require the assistance of a lawyer, in order to provide guidance and validity for the end result. Even in such situations, the parties may still need to interact very frequently with a probate judge for intervention or assistance. 

For instance, suppose that one party feels that they should have inherited a car from the testator instead of a different person. In this case, the administrator and the person would need to consult the will document as well as state laws to determine which rights, if any, the person has with regards to the property. 

What is Estate Planning?

Writing a will document is generally part of a larger process known as estate planning. This is where a person catalogues the entirety of their belongings and assets in preparation for distribution upon their death. The will may address the property distributions along with other documents and financial mechanisms such as a trust document. 

Thus, a will settlement may also require an examination of other estate documents that the person created during their lifetime. This may be necessary to reach a valid solution to the dispute. 

For instance, some will distribution conflicts can arise if the property was already transferred through a trust account instead of through the will. These types of conflicts generally require legal assistance in order to settle completely and in a way that is enforceable under local and state laws.

Should I Hire a Lawyer for Will Settlement Issues?

Will settlement can often involve a wide range of legal disputes, issues, and estate matters. You may need to hire a probate lawyer in your area for help settling any will contests that may arise. An attorney near you can assist in filing a claim with the probate court, and can also advise you on your rights during the process. Most will settlement procedures can take several months or longer to complete.