Paramus Probate Attorneys Advise Clients on Estate Litigation
Resources in NJ and NYC to protect your interests when legacy disputes arise
When it is time to settle a loved one’s estate, you hope the process goes smoothly and concludes within a reasonable amount of time. Conflicts and delays prevent heirs from accessing estate assets they may need urgently and inflict wasteful losses on the estate. At Whitlock Canter LLC in Paramus, our probate and estate administration attorneys take proactive steps to protect our clients from unnecessary estate litigation. When litigation is unavoidable, we make reliable referrals to ensure you have the resources you need to protect your rights.
How poor planning and execution can lead to estate litigation
Whitlock Canter LLC is dedicated to producing the best results possible for our clients. We provide meticulous estate planning, probate, and estate administration services to minimize the potential for damaging litigation later on. Unfortunately, during the probate process, we sometimes assist in settling estates that were not planned with the highest level of care. Often, haste in executing documents for a testator who has not planned ahead leads to costly mistakes that could have been avoided. In the end, beneficiaries get far less than the testator intended.
Grounds for will contests in New Jersey
In New Jersey, any person at least 18 years of age and of sound mind can execute a will by signing the document (or acknowledge having signed it) in front of two witnesses who also sign. New Jersey also allows for holographic (self-proving) wills, if the material provisions and the signature are in the testator’s handwriting.
Potential heirs can challenge a will’s validity on several grounds, including:
- Defective execution — If there are flaws in the will’s execution that raise doubts about its validity, the court can declare the will void, and the estate passes to heirs according to the state’s laws of inheritance.
- Competence of testator — If evidence suggests that a testator was not of sound mind when executing a will or codicil, the will or codicil is not valid. The court can rely on an earlier executed will if one exists.
- Undue influence — When someone who has special access to a testator is also favored in the terms of the will, allegations of undue influence can arise. Basically, the charge is that this person exerted emotional pressure on the testator to get the favorable terms. A court can declare the will void in whole or in part for undue influence.
- Fraud or misrepresentation — In these types of cases, a party alleges that someone fooled the testator into signing a will that did not contain the terms the testator believed were included.
- Counterfeit — In this type of case, someone has presented a false will to the probate court for approval.
Even if a will is valid, challenges can arise over vague terms that are open to different interpretations. If the court cannot interpret such terms with confidence, the section of the will can be invalidated. This creates a circumstance known as partial intestacy. The part of the estate covered in the void section must pass to heirs according to state law.
Other types of estate litigation
In addition to will contests, there are two common types of estate litigation:
- Creditor claims — It is not unusual for persons, institutional lenders, and even the IRS to claim a decedent owes them money. The executor or estate administrator must verify whether creditor claims are true, and pay legitimate bills from estate assets before distributing assets to heirs. However, the executor also has a duty to defend the estate against specious claims.
- Breach of fiduciary duty — If an estate or trust loses value because the administrator performs incompetently or illegally, beneficiaries can sue for losses, and the administrator can be held personally liable. Trust administrators also have a duty to disperse assets according to the terms of a trust. Conflicts often arise between administrators and disappointed beneficiaries who do not receive payments of assets they feel they deserve.
Many estate conflicts are settled through negotiation or mediation. When conflicts must be litigated in court, our probate attorneys direct our clients to capable, accomplished litigators who can protect their rights.
Contact our Paramus law firm for your estate litigation issues
Whitlock Canter LLC provides reliable probate and estate administration services throughout Northern New Jersey and New York City, referring clients to experienced litigators when disputes arise. To schedule a consultation, give us a call today at 201-397-1188 or contact us online.