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What is a probate dispute?

Probate disputes arise when beneficiaries disagree about the management of the estate after someone's passing -- usually a parent. These disputes can take a lot of time and resources to solve, and they are one reason that it is wise for people to be as specific as possible when doing their estate planning. A clear estate plan is one of the top ways to avoid a dispute.

Will contests

Of course, even drafting a will doesn't mean there won't be any dispute. A will contest is one of the more common types of disputes that occurs. It can happen for a few different reasons, such as:

  • Undue influence
  • Fraud
  • Forgery
  • Inaccuracy
  • Multiple wills
  • Testamentary capacity
  • Lack of witnesses
  • Illegal provisions
  • Unfair provisions
  • Unequal bequests

For example, one heir may feel that they deserve more of the estate than the others because they stayed close to home and took care of their elderly parent while the others lived in different states. Or, those other heirs may end up challenging a will, saying that the heir who lived close to home forged the document or used undue influence on the elderly person due to their proximity to them.

Another example is when the estate plan gets put forth and then someone else claims to have a newer will. Are both wills valid? Which one stands? What are the differences between the two? These are all important questions to ask.

Lack of an estate plan

Disputes can also arise when there is no estate plan at all. Without a will, heirs may have very different ideas about what they should do with the assets they inherit.

For instance, maybe one heir always went for a summer vacation with their parents to the beach, where they owned a cottage. The other heirs did not. That heir feels that they should just get the vacation cottage outright; they're the only one who actually cares about it or wants it. The others, though, see it as a financial opportunity. They also think they should have ownership, but just so that they can sell it and split up the money.

Finding a solution that pleases everyone is hard. If they keep the cottage, are those who don't get their money going to feel cheated? If they sell it, is the heir with the emotional attachment to it going to feel furious that they lost the property?

Working your way through

A probate dispute of any kind can become disruptive for a family. It's crucial for all involved to know what legal options they have as they seek a solution.

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