Television dramas often depict disputes over wills as dramatic conflicts between dysfunctional children of wealthy parents. While these depictions are entertaining, they are not representative of all inheritance disputes.
The probate process allows beneficiaries, creditors and others with interests in an estate to challenge the legitimacy of a will. Despite television portrayals, these disputes can happen to well-adjusted families with estates of any size. Here are a few common disputes that can arise during the probate process.
Validity of the will
People may contest the validity of a will for a variety of reasons. These can include:
- Questions about the testator’s mental capacity when they made or edited their estate plans.
- A lack of intent—or a mistake—present in the will. An example of this could be an estate plan that leaves an inheritance for every grandchild except for the youngest who was born after the estate plan was drafted.
Sometimes, beneficiaries may feel that a judge should amend a will because of inequities that the testator did not account for. For example, siblings will often get equal shares of the estate. However, one sibling may have sacrificed significant working time to care for the parent in their later years and feels that the estate should compensate them for that time.
Challenges over fiduciary duties
Typically, an estate plan will name an executor to assume the fiduciary (financial) responsibilities for the estate. However, just because someone is named an executor, does not mean they have to take on this duty.
If the named executor decides that they do not want to assume the duty, disputes may arise over who the executor of the will should be.
Furthermore, beneficiaries of the will can level claims against executors whom they believe are acting fraudulently.
How to prevent probate disputes
The time following the death of a loved one can be challenging. Disputes over the will can make this period even more difficult.
A well-drafted, regularly updated estate plan can help prevent many disputes from causing additional grief during the probate process.