The rumor mill often kicks into high gear after someone’s death. When you serve as the executor of an estate, people will likely seek you out either to obtain gossip or to supply you with it.
If you learn that members of the family of the deceased or other beneficiaries from the estate are unhappy with the last will or with your management of the estate, it’s only natural to worry that they might bring a challenge against you in court.
While many people grumble about the terms of the last will or how an executor manages an estate, only specific circumstances give families grounds to challenge an estate or its executor. A last will with illegal terms or that isn’t properly signed and executed won’t hold up in court. However, seemingly valid documents could also face challenges.
Families can challenge a will that demonstrates undue influence
A person who provides medical care or who has a position of legal or social authority over the deceased could have used that as leverage to manipulate or bully that person into including terms that benefit them in the last will. Changes made later in life that benefit only one person, particularly if that person is a caregiver, may give rise to claims of undue influence.
Last wills or changes written during cognitive decline may not be valid
In order to create or modify a last will or estate plan, a testator has to be of sound mind. The later in life someone creates or changes their last will and the more their independence declined with age, the more likely it is that the family can bring a challenge on grounds of lack of capacity.
Fraud is also a reason to challenge in the state
As much as it might sound like the plot of a movie, there are circumstances in which people create false documents, trick someone into signing something or even forge signatures. If there is evidence of fraud in the creation or modification of the will, the courts may choose not to uphold the will or to revert to a previous version of the document.
Executors can wind up challenged for failure or greed
There is a range of reasons why executors or administrators could wind up facing a challenge. Many times, a person asked to manage an estate simply doesn’t have the time to do so. Maybe they live in another state and work a job. Other times, they may lack the skill or attention to detail to do so properly.
Families can also challenge an executor if they believe that the individual violated their fiduciary duty to the estate. Their fiduciary duty is an obligation stemming from a position of trust to act in the other party’s best interest. Insider dealing or embezzling assets could be reasons for family members to claim a violation of fiduciary duty.