When a family member dies, the loved ones they leave behind sometimes get caught up in legal disputes over their estate. These disputes can become emotionally charged as family members fight over money, heirlooms, real estate, and other assets. Trustees, executors, and personal representatives can get stuck in the middle of these family fights, too, making it harder to fulfill their legal duties.
Careful estate planning can minimize the chances of estate litigation. But differing interpretations over trust documents or wills could still lead to lawsuits. Whether you seek to challenge the management of an estate or if you are facing litigation over your role as an executor or trustee, you need experienced legal representation to protect your rights. Pennington Law, PLLC can help.
Our firm has years of experience providing skillful counsel to individuals and families dealing with legal disputes over trusts and estates. We work hard to thoroughly investigate the circumstances of your case, and we will provide you with options to protect your financial interests and your family.
Contact Pennington Law, PLLC, for a free initial case evaluation to learn how a West Valley Arizona estate litigation lawyer can help you. Our firm can support you every step of the way if you need to challenge a will or trust or if someone is contesting the management of your trust or estate. We serve clients and families in Surprise, Sun City West, Peoria, Goodyear, Buckeye, and the surrounding communities.
Common Disputes That Lead to Estate Litigation in Arizona
Some of the most common disputes over trusts and estates that lead to litigation include:
- Creditor Litigation – Probate often involves claims from alleged creditors, especially claims that arise from personal loans or sales of property. When an executor denies a creditor’s claim, the creditor might sue the estate.
- Contested Wills – Heirs or other interested parties can file suits to challenge the validity of a will or specific provisions in a will. Challengers might assert claims of fraud, undue influence, forgery, improper execution, or vagueness to have a will declared invalid in whole or in part.
- Trust Management Issues – Trustees have legal responsibilities with respect to the trust’s beneficiaries. Beneficiaries can file litigation to contest a trustee’s actions, alleging that the trustee mishandled or wasted trust assets or engaged in self-dealing.
- Out-of-Date Documents – Heirs or beneficiaries might try to challenge the validity of a will by alleging that the decedent made a subsequent will, revoking the will submitted in court.
- Beneficiaries Disputing the Terms of a Will – Beneficiaries named in a will might fight amongst each other to dispute the specific terms of the will, hoping to secure a larger share of the estate or certain assets for themselves.
- Signs of Coercion or Undue Influence – Interested parties can seek to invalidate a will or trust by alleging that the settlor (the person who made a settlement or created a trust of property) executed the will or trust while subject to coercion or undue influence from another party who stood to benefit from the estate.
- Disputes Surrounding Sudden Incapacitation – Some parties might question the validity of a will or trust if the executor or personal representative became incapacitated around the same time as the execution of the will or trust.
Your Legal Rights in an Estate or Trust Litigation Matter
Beneficiaries and executors/trustees have various rights in estate and trust litigation, including the following:
The Right to Contest a Will or Trust
A named beneficiary or anyone claiming an interest in an estate or trust has the right to file a lawsuit to challenge the validity of the will or trust documents. A beneficiary or purported heir might file suit to determine whether the settlor or testator (the subject of the will) had the legal capacity to execute the will or trust, whether undue influence played a part, or whether the testator followed the legal requirements for managing the will or trust.
The Right to Distributions
Beneficiaries under a will or trust document also have the right to receive distributions from the estate or trust according to the terms of the will or trust. A beneficiary could file a suit to compel an executor or trustee to make certain distributions.
The Right to Information About the Trust or Estate
Trust beneficiaries also have the right to receive information about the trust’s finances from the trustee. Heirs or beneficiaries of an estate could file a lawsuit to demand an accounting from the executor or administrator.
Trustees or executors have the right to obtain legal representation to help them address legal disputes or lawsuits over their trust or estate management.
What to Consider When Selecting an Estate and Trust Litigation Lawyer in Arizona
It’s a good idea to consider a range of factors when choosing an estate and trust litigation lawyer to represent your interests. These factors include the following:
You should seek a lawyer with extensive experience handling estate and trust litigation matters. You might ask prospective lawyers how long they have practiced trust and estate litigation, what percentage of their cases involve estate or trust litigation matters, and how frequently they achieve successful client results.
Record of Success
You should hire an estate and trust litigation lawyer with an established record of success both inside and outside the courtroom. You will want an attorney with the negotiation skills necessary to help you obtain a fair resolution at the settlement table. Your attorney should also have a record of winning verdicts, which can give you the confidence to take your case to trial if necessary.
Estate or trust litigation can quickly become complicated. It’s best to work with a law firm that has the financial resources and personnel to handle your case, no matter how complex or sprawling it becomes. The firm you choose should also have connections with experts and forensic accountants who can analyze financial and estate planning records.
You should also find an estate and trust litigation attorney who will maintain close contact with you throughout your case. When questions or concerns arise, you need a lawyer who will quickly respond to your phone call or email and help you work through the problem. Your attorney should also keep you updated on the progress of your case, so you never feel left in the dark.