Probate is a legal process that is followed after a person’s death, and it ensures that the wishes of the decedent are carried out according to their instructions. Probate can help to provide closure to family members of deceased people, giving them the assurance that their loved one’s final affairs have been settled correctly. Sometimes, however, disputes can arise during this process, which can cause significant delays and legal expenses while affecting the relationships between different heirs and beneficiaries. It is important to understand when these disputes can occur and what family members can do if they do arise.
Disputes during the probate process most commonly occur when an individual is unhappy with the decisions the decedent made in their will or believes that the will is invalid. However, a will generally cannot be legally challenged just because someone is unhappy with their inheritance. Instead, these challenges will usually be based on the validity of the will, and a person may claim that the will filed in court during the probate process does not reflect the true intentions of the deceased person. Reasons for challenging a will may include:
Fraud – A person may believe that a will that was filed is different from the document that was originally signed by their loved one. They may believe that the will was altered by someone else after it was signed or that a document was created without the decedent’s knowledge, and their signature was forged by someone else. A person may also claim that the decedent was tricked into signing a will, such as when someone presented them with a document that they claimed was an insurance policy that needed to be signed.
Coercion – A probate dispute can also arise if it is believed that the person was coerced, threatened, or forced into signing a will. These situations may involve physical abuse or other forms of pressure from another party, such as threats to cause harm to the decedent or their loved ones if they did not sign a will. These situations may also involve what is known as “undue influence,” in which someone in a position of power over the decedent (such as a caretaker) convinced them to make changes to their will that went against what they actually wanted.
Lack of capacity – In some cases, a family member or an expected beneficiary may believe that the decedent did not have the mental capacity to make informed decisions when creating or updating their will. They may provide evidence of dementia, substance abuse problems, or other conditions that affected the decedent’s ability to understand what they were signing.
Invalid execution – A will may be challenged on the basis that it did not meet all legal requirements when it was created. A person must sign their will in the presence of two witnesses, who will also sign the document. If these requirements are not met, a will may be found to be invalid.
Probate disputes may also address improper actions by the executor of an estate. Beneficiaries who believe that an executor failed to manage the estate’s assets correctly or did not distribute property according to the instructions left behind by the decedent may take action to address these issues. They may seek to have the executor removed and replaced, or they may ask the court to require the executor to reimburse the estate for losses that occurred due to mismanagement or failure to follow a will’s instructions.
If you are an executor or beneficiary who is involved in a dispute related to a contested will, it is important to contact an attorney as soon as possible. At The Marques Eason Law Group, our Beverly probate lawyer will be able to review all documents and advise you on how best to proceed in order to protect your rights and interests. We can help you determine how to proceed during probate litigation, and we will provide you with representation to help you resolve any outstanding disputes. Contact us at 312-973-3755 to arrange a consultation today.