Estate litigation is a broad term used to describe disputes regarding Probate estates, Trust estates, Conservatorships, and Guardianships. Although a comprehensive estate plan can avoid ambiguity, the desires of beneficiaries, the disinherited, or dissatisfied family members cannot be controlled, and it is not uncommon for the decedent’s estate to be the subject of litigation. Within each area of law, specific disputes may arise. The following are the more common types of disputes:
- Capacity Issues – Did a person have the requisite testamentary capacity to execute his or her estate planning documents? Was a person subject to undue influence in the execution of his estate planning documents? Is a person incapacitated so that a Conservatorship or Guardianship is necessary for the protection of their person and property?
- Breach of Fiduciary Duties – A Personal Representative, Trustee, Conservator, and Guardian are all considered “fiduciaries” who have heightened duties and responsibilities, and are held to a higher standard of care. In many contested cases, the fiduciary is claimed to have breached their duty, in which case the fiduciary may have to be removed from that position and/or ordered to rectify their breach.
- Identity of Fiduciary – Without proper estate planning, you lose the opportunity to choose who should serve as your Conservator, Guardian, or Personal Representative. In such a case, the laws of our State set forth a list of persons who have priority to serve in those capacities, but ultimately, the Court will choose the identity of that person, which may or may not be the person you would have chosen. A common example is where a senior parent has lost capacity and is now in need of a Conservatorship, and a dispute between the children arises over the identity of the Conservator.
- Estate Plan Construction and Interpretation– Not all estate planning documents are created equally and it is not uncommon for the estate plan to be the subject of litigation. Estate plans that are of the “cookie cutter” type only beg for litigation because they are not customized to deal with the client’s unique situation and comprehensive enough to deal with unanticipated events. Many disputes dealing with construction and interpretation of estate planning documents deal with the use of ambiguous language that do not adequately reflect the wishes of the client.
AVOIDING ESTATE RELATED LITIGATION
At Estate Planning Group, we believe our commitment to preparing estate planning documents which fit the client’s circumstances and goals is one way to reduce the possibility of estate related litigation. It is crucial that anyone considering estate planning go to an attorney that practices in this area of law, and is willing to draft the estate planning documents around the client, instead of fitting the client around their documents.
Nonetheless, anyone may dispute even the most comprehensive estate plan – regardless of whether their claims have merit or not. Estate Planning Group has represented Hawaii families in estate related disputes covering a wide range of issues. Estate Planning Group focuses on zealously advocating our client’s rights and resolving matters in the most cost-efficient manner possible.