Estate administration may require some level of court involvement and supervision, as in the case of probate, or none at all, as in the case of trust administration. In either area, however, disputes can arise, and at that point, turning to the courts is almost always necessary. For trust and estate litigation in Chicago or nationwide, count on the law firm of King & Jones for practical advice and able, effective representation. Our Chicago trust & estate litigation lawyers have decades of experience litigating trust and estate matters and breach of fiduciary duty claims in Illinois and beyond. Our firm’s attorneys possess the knowledge and experience necessary to guide you and advocate on your behalf in any dispute regarding the validity or enforceability of a will, trust or other testamentary instruments.
Probate describes the process of settling claims against the estate, validating the offered will, and distributing the estate according to the terms of the will. At the opening of the estate, all creditors are notified and provided with a window in which to bring their claims. The estate’s executor, administrator or personal representative is in charge of paying those claims out of estate funds before making will distributions to heirs. The executor owes a fiduciary duty to the heirs to protect the estate from spurious claims that would wrongfully dilute or dissipate the heirs’ inheritance. Litigation may be necessary to validate the claim and determine whether it must be paid or not.
The will itself might also be challenged under a number of grounds. Most often, will contests center around a claim that the testator lacked the mental capacity to make or alter the will, or that another person exerted undue influence on the testator to insert provisions in the will the testator otherwise would not have made. These challenges are more likely when a will is made or altered later in life, often after the testator has remarried or has been under the care of a family member or professional caregiver. Will contests are most often brought by heirs or omitted heirs who would get a larger share of inheritance under an older will or previous version of the will or according to state laws of intestate succession if there is no valid will at all.
Like wills, trusts can also be the subject of litigation when their validity is challenged. Arguments of undue influence on the grantor or the settlor’s capacity to make a trust lay the groundwork for many trust disputes. Allegations of coercion, fraud or duress might also have to be litigated to determine whether the terms of a trust are valid and enforceable. Questions about who the proper beneficiaries of the trust are can also arise when the beneficiaries were not definitely identified in the trust document.
Another fertile ground of trust litigation surrounds the trustee’s performance of duties. Until trust assets are disbursed to the beneficiaries, the trustee acts as a fiduciary with many obligations to act in the best interests of the trust and its beneficiaries. A trustee who makes unsafe investments of trust property could be liable for damage to the trust caused by those bad business decisions. Sometimes, the trustee is also a beneficiary, leading other beneficiaries to question whether the trustee is adequately representing all beneficiaries’ interests or is engaging in self-dealing or other conflicts of interest at the other beneficiaries’ expense. Trust litigation might be initiated to demand an accounting of trust assets, remove the trustee, and recover lost profits or compensation for other harm to the trust.
The source of most will and trust litigation is a dispute among family members over the size or share of an inheritance. These disputes can arise in a number of ways. If one family member became especially close to the decedent in the decedent’s later years, other family members might challenge any wills or trust changes made during that period that favor the close family member over the others. Blended families also give rise to will and trust litigation, often centered around disputes between children of a first and second marriage, or children of a first marriage versus the step-parent. An omitted heir might also litigate a claim that the heir should nevertheless be included in the inheritance. Likewise, any heir who is given a lesser share than other members of the same class (children, grandchildren) is more likely to bring a claim alleging some error in the creation of the will or trust document.
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For help with trust and estate litigation in Chicago or throughout the country, call King & Jones at 312-372-4142. Our experienced Chicago trust & estate litigation lawyers can advise you of your best options and develop a strategy to successfully resolve your dispute, no matter what issues are involved.