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Conflicts can arise soon after someone passes away. A decedent’s loved ones may be surprised by the manner in which the decedent hoped to distribute property. Probate is the method by which a will involving assets of the estate is validated by the Surrogate’s Court. Sometimes disputes arise during this process. Where someone passes away without a will, an administration proceeding is filed. Estate administration can also result in disputes. If you are concerned about a will contest or other estate-related dispute, seasoned New York City estate litigation attorney Jules Haas may be able to help.Estate Litigation
There are situations in which probate and estate administration move forward without conflict. However, there are also situations in which disputes arise and need to be resolved through estate litigation. Estate litigation can trigger delays and cause both parties to incur substantial costs.
After your loved one dies, a personal representative will be obliged to manage the estate and distribute assets. If there is a valid will or trust in place, it is less likely that a dispute will arise. However, heirs and beneficiaries sometimes disagree over whether a will or trust is valid. They may bring a will or trust contest. Will contests challenge the will’s validity and can be brought on various grounds including undue influence, duress, mental incompetence or lack of testamentary capacity of the decedent, the will not being duly executed, or forgery. A trust contest may be brought on similar grounds.
Disputes can also arise in connection with other issues such as creditors’ claims or concerns about whether a fiduciary is performing in accord with his or her fiduciary obligations. For example, it may be possible to challenge the actions of a trustee if you believe those actions constitute a breach of fiduciary duty. A breach of fiduciary duty may occur when the fiduciary mismanages the assets in the estate or trust, or when the fiduciary engages in self-dealing or embezzles funds. Sometimes it’s necessary to request an accounting; upon request, a trustee or executor should set forth financial information regarding investments, estate assets, bank statements, investment policies, or present a challenge or defense of tax issues.
In certain situations, it may be appropriate to institute fiduciary removal proceedings to get a fiduciary who is mismanaging an estate or trust removed. The fiduciary may be ordered to pay restitution to the estate or to beneficiaries.
Under New York law, a surviving spouse has certain rights. It may be appropriate to litigate where your spouse intentionally omitted you from his or her will. There are also situations in which a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement specifies certain provisions be included in a will, and if they are omitted, this may be cause for legal action. An estate litigation lawyer serving New York City can assist you under these circumstances.Other Proceedings
There are other proceedings that may also be appropriate. If extended family members such as cousins or aunts or uncles are trying to establish their relationship to the decedent when other close family members haven’t survived, kinship proceedings may be appropriate. In other situations, someone dies without a will and a guardianship needs to be established for a minor child. The guardian will need to make major decisions for the child, including decisions regarding education and medical care. Claims may be brought against a trust or estate by a decedent’s business partners related to interests in a business asset that the decedent owned, or a creditor’s claim where the creditor’s claim for payment was denied by a fiduciary.
Estate litigation can also involve wrongful death lawsuits. These could include, for example, a medical malpractice lawsuit on behalf of an heir or beneficiary where a doctor’s medical malpractice killed the decedent and his family suffered harm as a result. Any damages recovered in a wrongful death lawsuit are estate assets that are distributed to a decedent’s beneficiaries.Real Property Disputes
A decedent might also leave real property behind after they pass away. In some cases, if property is in the hands of a trustee and part of a trust, beneficiaries might believe it is being mismanaged and seek an accounting. The Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act provides the appropriate remedies in this situation. If an accounting reveals that a trustee has mismanaged the property, you can request that the court remove the trustee. Under section 2205, the Court can mandate that a fiduciary must file an accounting. A skilled New York City estate litigation lawyer can represent you in seeking this kind of relief.
In some cases, tenants on the decedent’s property refuse to vacate the property after the owner’s death. Under these circumstances, the fiduciary might have to initiate a turnover proceeding through which the fiduciary requests that the court order the tenant to turn over property that is in their possession. Landlord-tenant eviction proceedings may also be needed.Consult a Seasoned Estate Litigation Attorney in New York City
Estate litigation can be heated, and oftentimes family members are involved. Jules Haas has over 35 years of experience representing clients in and around New York City. He represents clients throughout Queens, the Bronx, and Manhattan, as well as in Kings, Richmond, Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester Counties. Contact us at (212) 355-2575 or through our online form.