What Are Common Reasons for Probate Disputes?
The average will takes about six to nine months to go through probate court. However, if there are disputes, this process can drag out for years. If you want to keep your heirs from dealing with the stress of a lengthy probate, you need to avoid making these mistakes.
Concerns About the Testator’s Mental Soundness
Any time a person makes changes to a will while they are ill or dealing with a chronic health problem, there can be concerns about their mental state. Especially if the changes end up leaving money to someone unexpected, like their at-home caregiver, there can be cause to get a probate attorney and challenge the will. To avoid this issue, it is a good idea to get proof that you are of sound mind while making your will. You might need to visit a doctor or other expert who can later testify on your behalf.
Lack of Updates After Major Changes to the Family
Probate often drags out when people are concerned that an older will no longer represents the deceased’s wishes. For example, consider a will that leaves money to all grandchildren except one born just a year ago or a will that leaves a large bequest to a former daughter-in-law who just divorced the deceased’s child. In these cases, heirs might be able to argue that the will does not suitably describe the testator’s intent. Regularly updating your will after any life changes can help prevent this issue. You may even want to make a note that you want your original will to stand, despite new births, reconciliations, marriages, or divorces in the family.
Unequal Shares to Similar Family Members
Any hint of inequality among family members in the same generational group can lead to issues. Something like giving one child less money or leaving all valuable jewelry to one grandchild can cause issues. Family members might claim that the testator was confused or mistaken. During probate, these claims get taken seriously because the courts tend to assume that people want to evenly divide assets among people. This is why estate planning litigation lawyers often recommend specifically stating that you want to disinherit family members instead of not mentioning them at all. Being clear that you remember the person but do not wish them to have more assets can reduce the risk of probate disagreements.
Disagreements About Who the Executor Is
The executor of the estate has a lot of financial responsibilities, so they can do things like sell your house or decide how to handle investments. If the original executor steps down or is not available, your beneficiaries have to pick a new one. This can lead to lengthy arguments about who is trustworthy enough to be an executor. There can also be lengthy probate challenges if the executor appears to be acting in a biased or fraudulent manner. Picking a respectable, unbiased executor and having a backup executor in mind can help to reduce these probate disagreements.
Mistakes or Vague Statements in the Will
It might be legal to write a will yourself and have a few witnesses sign it, but this is not always a good idea. Little mistakes like failing to clarify whether you were talking about John Smith Sr. or John Smith Jr. can lead to massive probate arguments. Misspellings, failing to specify which asset you mean, or writing the wrong number can all lead to issues with New Jersey probate. You need to double- and triple-check your will and ensure that everything is as clear and specific as possible.
If you want to make the probate process easier for your loved ones, it is a good idea to have an estate planning litigation lawyer look over your will. They might be able to help you identify potential issues and assist you with clarifying the language in your will. At The Knee Law Firm, we also offer a wide variety of other estate planning services alongside our will drafting service. We can help you figure out things like trusts, power of attorney documents, and more. To get more information on our Hackensack law office, call 201-996-1200 or fill out our online contact form.