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Disputes Between Beneficiaries
A decedent’s estate or trust must be managed and distributed after his or her death. A fiduciary is responsible for carrying out these activities appropriately and in accordance with the law.
While retaining an experienced lawyer to draft the instrument controlling the distribution of property may minimize the likelihood of a will or trust dispute, heirs or beneficiaries may react unpredictably in their grief to the death of a beloved family member or friend. When disputes between beneficiaries occur, you should talk to knowledgeable New York City estate litigation attorney Jules Haas.Disputes Between Beneficiaries
Disputes that may arise between beneficiaries may involve will contests, trust contests, spousal inheritance rights, creditors’ claims, accountings, breach of fiduciary duty, or performance of a fiduciary. Sometimes, beneficiaries are able to resolve these matters informally. However, if they are not able to reach an agreement, it may be appropriate to pursue estate litigation. Manhattan estate lawyers can help with these cases.Will and Trust Contests
To contest the validity of a will or trust, a challenger must have legal standing. People with legal standing include family members who receive an inheritance or would inherit more under New York law if the will or trust were not valid, as well as disinherited or disadvantaged beneficiaries. For example, you may contest the later will of a decedent if it reduced your inheritance and you believe that the change was prompted by a beneficiary who exerted undue influence on the decedent. Beneficiaries may also contest a will and trust on the grounds of fraud, incapacitation, improper execution or revocation. Brooklyn estates can involve these issues.Spousal Inheritance Rights
New York law prohibits the disinheriting of a spouse to whom the decedent was lawfully married at the time of death. Disinheriting occurs when persons intentionally omit their spouse from a will or trust. If a decedent’s surviving spouse is left out of a will or trust, he or she can assert the right to an elective share of the decedent’s assets. Generally, a surviving spouse is entitled to the greater of 1/3 of an estate or $50,000. Many Queens estates have right of election claims. After a personal representative is appointed to manage the decedent’s estate, the surviving spouse has six months to file a claim with the New York Surrogate’s Court.Fiduciary Duties to Beneficiaries
Fiduciaries act for another’s benefit and must conduct themselves in a loyal, prudent and trustworthy way for the beneficiaries. Fiduciaries should avoid making investments or other decisions that would result in the beneficiaries sustaining financial loss. Beneficiaries may bring a lawsuit if they believe that a trustee has breached his or her fiduciary duties or is engaging in self-dealing, negligently managing estate or trust assets, or committing intentional acts of fraud. Other breaches of fiduciary duty include removing property from an estate, failing to provide necessary information to a beneficiary, acting against a beneficiary’s interests, or failing to properly carry out the terms of a will or trust.Fiduciary Performance
In some cases, one beneficiary may wish to remove a fiduciary, while the others would prefer to keep the fiduciary in place. The Surrogate’s Court gives deference to a testator’s selection of an executor or trustee. Generally, removal will only be granted if a beneficiary can show that an estate and its administration would be endangered without removal.
Removal may be appropriate if the fiduciary has committed financial mismanagement, failed to abide by court orders, performed actions without necessary court approval, or engaged in conflicts of interest or self-dealing. Disputes between beneficiaries may arise when a trustee imprudently invests in one of the beneficiaries’ companies in a way that engenders losses for the other beneficiaries. The aggrieved beneficiary may seek removal. A Bronx attorney can assist with these matters.Consult a Seasoned New York City Lawyer
If you find yourself in a dispute between beneficiaries, you should talk to seasoned New York City attorney Jules Haas, who has represented clients in estate litigation cases for more than 30 years. His clients have matters in Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, Kings, Richmond, Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester Counties. Contact him at (212) 355-2575 or through our online form. Mr. Haas provides a free case review and offers reasonable fee arrangements.