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Common Estate Disputes 

David W. Walker Attorney At Law Jan. 17, 2023

Discussion about estate termsIt’s no secret that estate planning is essential. The process empowers you to make decisions that reflect your individual goals and the best interests of your beneficiaries. When you build a comprehensive plan, you clarify your future wishes regarding important matters such as asset and property distribution and end-of-life medical care.  

While there are many pros to creating an estate plan, it’s also important to anticipate the possible cons. Because of the complex and emotional nature of estate planning, it’s common for conflicts to arise somewhere down the line — as an example, a certain family member may not receive what they expected and claim the will is invalid, or the court-appointed administrator may breach their fiduciary duty and mismanage your estate, and more.  

As a Missouri estate planning and probate attorney, I’m passionate about helping people throughout my community navigate estate law processes efficiently and effectively. From my law firm in Columbia, Missouri, I proudly serve residents of Jefferson City, Fulton, Boonville, and the surrounding areas. Contact me now or continue reading to learn more about common estate disputes, and what steps you can take to avoid or resolve them.  

Examples of Estate Disputes 

An estate dispute can be described as a problem that occurs when an estate plan is put into motion, following the death or incapacitation of its owner (decedent). Issues can also arise while the plan is being created. Some of the most common estate disputes include the validity of a will, lack of testamentary capacity, undue influence, and more.  

Validity of a Will 

A party with legal standing can challenge the validity of a will if they have reason to believe the decedent’s will or other estate plan documents were established improperly. These disputes often develop when a beneficiary is disappointed in their inheritance, or, when an individual who expected to be named beneficiary was left out of the will.   

How to avoid: When creating your estate plan, work alongside a knowledgeable attorney who will walk you through the required actions of enforcing a valid will, e.g. having the proper witnesses, terminating any previous wills, and following your state’s will provisions.  

Lack of Testamentary Capacity 

Insufficient testamentary capacity is a common reason to contest a will. In these disputes, the challenger is claiming that the decedent did not meet the basic competency requirements while they were creating their estate plan.  

How to avoid: If you’re concerned that someone may try to contest your will or estate plan on the grounds of you lacking testamentary capacity, be sure to bring it up with your estate planning attorney. They will help you understand and provide the required documentation that can shield your will from these disputes, e.g. a physician’s report, or a video of yourself proving that you understand:  

  • Who your relatives are.

  • What property you own.

  • What your relationship is with the beneficiaries you have chosen.

  • What your estate documents say and mean.

Conflicts With the Executor of the Estate 

The executor (also referred to as the estate administrator) is the person who holds the responsibility of managing the estate after its owner passes away. Disputes may arise due to how the executor was chosen or if they commit executor fraud, which is when an appointed estate administrator misappropriates estate assets for themselves or another party who is not legally entitled to inherit them. When this happens, it constitutes a breach of fiduciary duty.  

How to avoid: Disputes surrounding the executor of the estate are best avoided before the estate owner’s death. When creating your estate plan, simply taking the step to name an executor can shield your heirs from conflict. By doing this, you don’t leave this power in the hands of the court. Also, because you cannot predict how people will act when they have administrative power, it’s always in your best interest to choose someone you wholeheartedly trust to be your executor. 

Undue Influence 

Undue influence refers to when someone manipulates a will owner (testator) to leaving them money, property, or other assets in the will. In these cases, the influencer is someone with an intimate or confidential relationship with the testator. They could be a caretaker, close friend, or a family member — someone who is already deeply trusted by the testator and aims to capitalize on their relationship by influencing the testator’s estate plan decisions for their own personal gain. 

How to resolve: Vulnerable or incapacitated individuals are often the victims of undue influence, so these disputes are difficult to avoid. However, beneficiaries who think they should have benefited more from a will, and potential beneficiaries who believe they should have been included in a will, have the right to contest the will by claiming undue influence.  

Speak With an Experienced Attorney  

With me as your estate planning attorney, you can be confident that I will help you build an estate plan that reflects your unique goals and safeguards your heirs from future disputes. But, sometimes disagreements are inevitable, and you deserve to know your options for seeking legal remedy.  

I come from a family of educators and channel that legacy into helping my clients fully understand their situation and the options available to them. If you’re currently navigating an estate dispute, I can help determine which whether collaborative mediation or traditional litigation is the best course of action for your specific case.  

If you’re currently navigating an estate dispute or preparing to create an estate plan, reach out to me today to set up a free consultation. I've been practicing law for more than 30 years, and I look forward to putting my experience to work for you and your family.