Probate proceedings and the distribution of estate assets are often very dull processes. Many testators talk openly with their families about what they want to do with their property when they die, so people know exactly what to expect. The reading of the will doesn’t result in any surprises for anyone, and family members trust that the executor chosen by the testator will fulfill their responsibilities.
However, sometimes people have concerns about what will happen – or has already happened – with assets from an estate. Perhaps when the family receives copies of the will, they realize that the terms included are far different from what someone always discussed with the family, or maybe the estate plan seems solid, but the executor has deviated from the instructions.
What can people do when they feel worried about what will happen with the assets in an estate?
They can contest the will
In circumstances where people believe that the estate planning documents are invalid, they can potentially contest the will in probate court. When people suspect fraud or undue influence, that could be a reason to challenge a will. So could a belief that someone had already lost their testamentary capacity when they drafted documents or made updates later in life. Finally, terms in a will that violate state law could be grounds to contest testamentary documents in probate court.
They can challenge the executor
In a scenario where someone believes that the estate plan itself is an accurate reflection of a testator’s wishes but the administration process seems to deviate from those plans, family members and beneficiaries could ask the courts to reprimand or even remove the executor of the estate.
Someone who has violated state law, breached their fiduciary duty to beneficiaries or acted in violation of the estate plan could face challenges in probate court. Judges could either remove someone from their role and replace them with someone else or instruct them to cease acting in a certain manner. Probate court proceedings can also prevent a large and questionable transfer, like the sale of a business or real property during estate administration.
Seeking legal guidance and taking thoughtful steps forward can help someone speak up effectively if they don’t believe that a particular distribution of assets approach aligns with someone’s actual wishes after their death.