Probate disputes are scary to think about and even more terrifying to experience firsthand. The possibility of family members becoming enemies or estate assets turning into legal fees is seriously concerning. Wouldn’t it be better to know how to deal with a probate dispute when it happens and how to prevent conflicts in the first place?
If the idea of probate disputes confuses and alarms you, this article will shed light on the subject.
Why do disputes come up in probate in the first place?
Recognizing the causes of probate conflict helps nip it in the bud. The following are the most common reasons for probate disputes:
There are many other reasons that can spark disagreement between parties involved in probate that are not listed above. The ones mentioned are just the most common.
A dispute can come up in any of the following phases:
If there is a will, someone in the family may not agree that it is valid and would want to contest it. Or someone may distrust the executor and intend to challenge their appointment to the role.
On the other hand, if there is no will, the family may disagree on who can best serve as the administrator. In some cases, someone in the family could attempt to contest the person requesting to become the administrator.
An heir or beneficiary could feel like the executor or administrator is mishandling the estate.
They could file in court against the personal representative, attempting to have the court demand an accounting or remove them from their position.
An heir or beneficiary could disagree with the amount that the executor or administrator says they will receive from the estate.
Overall, a dispute can occur at any point in the probate process.
Understanding the estate dispute process helps you prepare any necessary documents, whether you are the complainant or the defendant, and set proper expectations of what is about to happen.
The probate litigation goes through these five phases.
Pleading is making a formal accusation or allegation against the other party. The dispute begins with this phase, where each party states the legal basis for their claim.
In this phase, each party uses legal tools to gather evidence to support their claims in their pleadings. Some of these legal tools are:
Motion is when a party in the dispute asks the court to do something or make a decision. The most common are motion to compel and motion for summary judgment.
These may happen anytime during a case, but many occur after the discovery is complete.
A trial or hearing is the main event of the dispute. At this stage, the parties will present their evidence and witnesses, and the court will determine the outcome of the claims made during the pleadings.
Either party will attempt to convince the court to favor them based on the evidence provided.
Though not often used, someone can file an appeal when they believe that the judge has made a mistake at the trial that would affect the case’s outcome.
Most people refrain from using appeals because to file an appeal, there needs to be a legal mistake made by the court. It is not something you can do just because you are not pleased with the result of the trial.
Estate battles can be chaotic once they start, so it’s best practice to take proactive steps to avoid them and try to keep relationships intact.
From the moment the will is made known to family members up to the point of distribution, conflicts can happen at any time. These are the most typical types:
Family members may have conflicting interests, but at the end of the day, everyone has one goal – to resolve disputes and move on with their lives.
The following ways can help resolve disputes:
It can start with informal negotiations that could lead to a settlement, typically between the attorneys at different points throughout a dispute.
Another way is through mediation. It is a formal process designed to encourage settlement, and the court requires it in almost all cases. All parties meet, and a mediator is present to help resolve issues and determine if a settlement is possible.
If all parties agree, a dispute can end immediately with a written settlement. All options are on the table since there are very few limits on what the parties can agree upon.
A hearing may occur if all attempts to resolve the dispute have failed. Both parties must produce evidence, an investigation will happen, and the probate court judge will decide on the outcome.
While this guide provides an overview of how disputes work in probate, it may not be enough to keep you out of trouble, mainly if family disputes have already occurred years before the passing of a loved one.
We recommend that you seek assistance from an experienced probate litigation attorney to navigate the situation as stress-free as possible. If you have any questions or concerns regarding the probate process, contact our office at (770) 796-4271.
Learn Important Probate Essentials, including key things that go wrong in an estate, how to prevent them, and what to do if they happen.
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