After the death of a loved one, family members or close friends may not be happy with decisions made regarding his property. In some cases, family members disagree about how property should be disposed of, or which will is controlling upon death. Those close to the decedent may disagree about whether to sell the decedent’s family home, or what the decedent’s intentions were. They may mistrust each other’s abilities to fulfill fiduciary duties. There are also situations in which the involvement of a stranger or an estranged family member as a fiduciary of a trust or executor of a will triggers certain contentious legal issues between those who stand to benefit. Whether you need to institute estate litigation or defend against it, you should hire seasoned New Jersey probate and estate matters lawyer Raymond Grimes.Estate Litigation
Estate litigation is an umbrella term for many different kinds of sensitive or controversial matters that come up in connection with the assets that make up an estate. Litigation may involve disputes arising out of:
- Will contests
- Trust contests
- Breaches of fiduciary duties by trustees or others
- Trust modification and reformation
- Fraudulent conveyances.
Litigation may be the result of a decedent’s lack of care in estate planning or refusal to make plans during her life. However, these lawsuits can also be the result of ambiguous language in a will, trust or other testamentary document. Litigation may stem from actions taken by fiduciaries before or after the decedent's death.Will Contests
In New Jersey, wills can be invalidated by a lower court if the person bringing the contest can prove that a vulnerable testator made the will under improper circumstances. Grounds for a will contest include improper will execution, lack of testamentary capacity, fraud, and duress.
Generally, the burden of proof lies with the person bringing the will contest to prove the will should be invalidated on a particular basis. However, there are situations in which the burden may be shifted; for example, a court may find undue influence and shift the burden of proof to the person supporting a will where a confidential relationship exists between the testator and the person who stands to benefit under the will and there are suspicious circumstances. Our attorney might find it potentially suspicious, for instance, if your father made a new will that left his paid caregiver all of his property, disinheriting you and your sibling.Breach of Fiduciary Duty
In New Jersey, the person who manages and distributes the assets of a trust is known as a fiduciary. He is a fiduciary, which means he is held to a very high standard of care. He’s required to manage and distribute the assets of the trust according to the trust terms, along with any other laws that govern the assets’ disposition. Estate litigation may be pursued by beneficiaries who believe a fiduciary is not handling the trust assets properly or has otherwise breached his fiduciary duties in connection with the trust.Trust Accounting
Fiduciaries are also required to keep accurate records regarding the estate’s assets. Under the Uniform Trust Code, adopted by New Jersey, trustees have a duty to keep specific beneficiaries reasonably informed about the administration of the trust and any material facts necessary to protect their interests. Beneficiaries can file a verified complaint in the proper county in order to force a trustee to provide an accounting. A fiduciary may be removed for cause if he or she fails to provide an accounting, among other circumstances for removal set forth under N.J.S.A. 3B:14–21(A).Retain a Results-Oriented New Jersey Law Firm
Beneficiaries, family members, trustees and executors may find themselves embroiled in disputes and differences of opinions. Left to fester, these can turn into lawsuits. In some cases, an interested person is surprised to discover that a will or trust did not dispose of property as a decedent said it would. You have a limited window of time within which to pursue your lawsuit. If you believe you need to pursue or defend against estate litigation in New Jersey, you should discuss your circumstances with seasoned probate and estate matters attorney Raymond Grimes. Our lawyers represent clients in Somerset County and throughout New Jersey and the Tri-State area. Please contact us at (908) 371-106 or complete our online form.