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What to Expect in Estate Litigation

Posted February 24, 2016 in Blog

Whether you have been appointed a trustee or personal representative, or named as a beneficiary of a loved one’s estate, the last thing you want is for something to go wrong in the process of winding up someone’s final affairs. Unfortunately, due to drafting errors, questions of interpretation or malfeasance on the part of someone involved, individuals dealing with probate or trust administration often find themselves embroiled in estate litigation.

Common Issues Leading to Disputes during Probate and Trust Administration

The process of carrying out the terms of a person’s will is known as probate. The process of effectuating the terms of a trust is known as trust administration. Probate is also used to administer the estate of someone who dies without a will.

Understandably, with emotions running high and – in some cases – significant amounts of money involved, disputes often arise during probate and trust administration. These disputes can take any number of different forms, but commonly involve issues such as:

  • Assertions of fraud and undue influence on the terms of the decedent’s estate plan
  • Questions regarding the decedent’s mental competence at the time he or she signed a trust or will
  • Ambiguities in estate planning documents
  • Inconsistencies between estate planning documents
  • Breach of fiduciary duty by personal representatives and trustees

When these or other issues lead to irreconcilable differences, the parties’ only option may be to turn to the courts for a resolution.

The Estate Litigation Process

While estate litigation is somewhat unique in terms of the circumstances and parties involved, it includes many of the same processes and procedures involved in other types of lawsuits. For example, initiating a will contest or other estate-related dispute starts with filing a caveat with the court, and then the parties gradually work their way toward a trial date while dealing with a number of complex and varied pre-trial matters along the way. Of course, this is a gross simplification of a highly complicated and detail-oriented process, and you will be working closely with your attorney at various stages throughout litigation to work toward a favorable and cost-effective resolution.

While lawsuits will occasionally proceed to trial, most cases are resolved through settlements outside of the courtroom. This is certainly true in estate litigation, where it is often in the best interests of all parties involved to come to mutually-agreeable terms. Once the litigation process begins to run its course – as the parties exchange documents and take each other’s statements through depositions and written questions (known as interrogatories and requests for admission) – the parties and their attorneys are often able to negotiate settlement terms that allow for the process to continue moving at a desired pace.

The Importance of Being Trial-Ready

That said, at Burns, Day & Presnell, P.A. we firmly believe in the value of preparing every case for trial. Not only does this allow you to be ready, should your trial date arrive, but it is also invaluable to executing an effective settlement strategy. If there is enough on the line to go to court, you need to be prepared to invest in achieving your desired outcome. Let us help you with your North Carolina wills and estates challenges.

Speak with an Estate Litigation Attorney at Burns, Day & Presnell, P.A.

If you are involved in an estate-related dispute and would like to speak with an attorney, we invite you to contact us for an initial consultation. We handle North Carolina wills and estates, and you can trust our decades of experience to help you achieve the outcome you deserve.