Estate Litigation Lawyers in Monmouth and Ocean County, New Jersey
The loss of a dear one is always painful. Unfortunately, the hard times that come over the loss of a family member are made even more complicated when there are arguments about how the inheritance is meant to be divided. Estate litigation is sometimes used to settle these disputes. Estate litigation is a claim filed with the Court alleging impropriety in an administrator’s disbursement of the inheritance or challenging the will altogether.
At Chamlin, Uliano and Walsh, our seasoned New Jersey estate litigation lawyers understand the stress that arises in family-related estate disputes during emotional times. We provide discreet guidance, and, when faced with estate administration complexities, our experienced probate attorneys navigate New Jersey’s intricate laws to ensure the deceased’s assets benefit loved ones. To set up an initial consultation, call (732) 440-3950 for a meeting at our West Long Branch location. We serve clients in Belmar, Manasquan, Eatontown, Manalapan, Little Silver, Ocean Township, Red Bank, Rumson, Middletown, and areas throughout Monmouth County and Southern New Jersey.
Potential Factors That Lead to Estate Litigation in NJ
One of the causes of estate litigation is an accusation that the will is invalid. Several events can affect the validity of a will. Creating a will without any witnesses or proper witnesses (over 18 and of sound mind) is grounds for questioning a will’s validity. Not following the state’s rules regarding wills or not including all of the assets is problematic. Additionally, having more than one will can be confusing and complicate matters further.
Any suggestion that the testator (the person writing the will) did not fully understand what was written or has an impaired decision-making ability. They must be “of sound mind,” which in legal terms is “testamentary capacity.” The testator must know their family members, who will receive an inheritance, and how it will be distributed. The court may determine that a lack of capacity invalidates the will.
If the will is drawn up or signed under duress and it can be proven, the will could be determined invalid. Pressure from one or more of the beneficiaries to exclude or include certain people in the will is undue influence and can invalidate the will.
Exploring the Different Legal Avenues of Estate Litigation
Estate litigation encompasses several subcategories directly connected to the division of an estate’s assets. Some of these include will and trust contests, conservatorships, trust modification and reformation, breaches of fiduciary duties or improper conveyances, guardianships, and the calculation of the inheritance to be received.
If a will is contested, improper will execution, a lack of witnesses or suitable witnesses, a lack of capacity by the testator, or coercion during the construction or signing of the will must be proven. Usually, the burden of proof is on the person contesting the will, someone with a stake in receiving an inheritance. Occasionally, someone who has a close relationship with the testator and will benefit significantly from its enactment may be required to prove the will’s validity. For example, if a family friend dedicated three years to taking care of an elder grandfather in his frail and debilitated state, and the will was changed to disinherit everyone but this caretaker, it would seem rather dubious in nature. The family friend may be called upon to substantiate her claim that the will is valid.
According to New Jersey regulations, fiduciaries are obligated to keep meticulous financial records Under the Uniform Trust Code. The beneficiaries must give periodic updates to the beneficiaries about the disbursement of assets and any other pertinent information. If the beneficiaries do not conform to the administration of the trust, a verified complaint can be submitted to the court to request a formal accounting. If the fiduciary is noncompliant or in some way deceptive, they can be removed. The law also requires that the will be in writing, signed by the testator or someone else in their presence and under their direction, and at least two witnesses must sign the will.
Disputes that Emerge in Estate Litigation Cases
The most common disagreement involves what is given to each beneficiary. Suppose there is a dispute between beneficiaries because they allege trustee misconduct or the will is contested for the reasons given previously. In that case, the disbursement of funds and assets may be delayed significantly.
Disagreements over the amount assigned to each beneficiary may incite a dispute. Some testators plan an equal distribution of funds, property, and other assets. Suppose one beneficiary wants to keep the family property. In that case, they can buy out the other inheritors, sell the property, and distribute the money from the sale. But when a beneficiary is allotted more than the others, claims of impropriety abound.
Estate trustees are legally allowed to receive compensation for their work. They are due a percentage of the total worth of the assets, which should be set aside before the disbursements and then given to the trustee once all business is completed. Frequently, families are reluctant to pay this compensation because it affects their bottom line.
Mapping Out the Probate Process in NJ
Probate is a process of managing the decedent’s estate, supervised by the court. The process begins when the executor submits the will to the Surrogate Court in the county where the decedent resides. The court confirms or denies the will’s validity, sometimes requesting the presentation of the witnesses who signed it, or they determine the will to be “self-proving.”
The executor is then formally named and responsible for gathering and distributing assets to the heirs, paying taxes, and paying off debts. The executor is required to submit an accounting of the estate to end the probate process.
Executor’s Duties in the Estate Litigation Process
The executor has to probate the will and make an inventory of everything owned by the decedent. They are responsible for managing the estate, paying taxes, settling debts, and doling out assets to beneficiaries. The larger the estate, the slower the process. Everything comes to a screeching halt in a dispute until it is settled.
Importance of Qualified Representation in Estate Litigation Issues
Handling a contested will or contesting the will yourself should never be done without an attorney. Your attorney can provide you with legal options, communicate with the other parties, ensure that all legal processes are followed to the letter, and, most importantly, advocate for you and your position. Dealing with family can be a sticky wicket regarding money issues. An attorney can step in and represent your side without the messiness of family bickering.
Preventive Measures to Reduce the Likelihood of Estate Litigation
You can take many preventative measures to protect your final wishes from disputes amongst the people you love most. Principally, the handling of the will itself can make all the difference. By using clear language and signing the will with the appropriate witnesses, there is no room to doubt its validity. Hiring a lawyer to assist you in drafting your will is also a good idea.
Another way to ensure that there will be no question of the testator’s state of mind is to make a trip to the doctor for a general check-up. A doctor’s report close to the date the will was created will go a long way in proving the will was written with a clear state of mind. Reviewing and updating the will when relationships change (divorces, deaths, births, marriages, etc.) can also save a will from being disputed. It is also important not to make verbal promises as they can cause arguments and disappointment, leading to a contested will.
Rely on Our Seasoned Freehold Estate Litigation Attorneys for Help with Your Case
Estate law is unfamiliar territory for most people not in the legal field. Its twists and turns can leave your head spinning. Fortunately, the estate litigation attorneys at Chamlin, Uliano, and Walsh can assess your case and determine the grounds to contest the will. Our team can gather evidence, mediate between parties, or take your case to court. We have helped many clients recover settlements in estate disputes in Southern New Jersey towns and cities such as Marlboro, Neptune, Howell, Tinton Falls, Long Branch, Holmdel, Colts Neck, and many others. Our seasoned professionals are stellar investigators, leaving no stone unturned until your dispute is resolved. We understand what a difficult time this is for you and will treat your case with empathy and concern for your well-being.
In New Jersey, there is a four-month period in which a will can be contested once probate is completed. If you have doubts about the validity of a will, or another possible estate litigation matter, contact us immediately for a consultation with one of our lawyers. Call (732) 440-3950 or fill out a contact form today.