In an ideal world, probate occurs without conflict. This is not an ideal world, unfortunately, and there are many different reasons why probate litigation can arise in any case.
A few reasons for probate litigation occur more frequently than others. If you are concerned about whether litigation will play a role in the probate of a loved one’s estate, keep reading to learn more about these factors.
1. Validity of the Will
A very common dispute that arises in probate is the validity of the will presented in court. Ideally, the will admitted to the court is the most recent will, but conflict can arise when someone discovers a newer will.
People rarely only write one will without making changes to it throughout their life. When they do make changes, they can create a literal paper trail of older wills. Unless these are discarded and the location of the most recent will is made clear, conflict can arise among family members trying to ascertain which will is legitimate.
2. Allegations of Undue Influence
When a will appears to favor an unexpected individual, allegations of undue influence can arise. Generally, these allegations claim that the individual apparently favored in the will exercised some sort of unfair control over the testator.
Such influence can occur by isolating the testator from their loved ones to create an artificially closer bond. It can also involve making promises or deals with the testator if they change their will. In extreme cases, undue influence can also mean manipulating the testator into changing their will through intimidation, threats, and/or violence.
3. The Testator Lacked Capacity
Allegations that a testator lacked capacity can sometimes go hand-in-hand with allegations of undue influence. In these cases, however, the concern lies with whether or not the testator had the mental capacity to understand they were preparing or signing a will when it occurred. Such concerns are often raised when the testator suffered from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease before they passed.
4. A Legal Heir Was Left Out of the Will
A legal heir is someone who would legally stand to inherit property if the estate were to fall into intestacy. In most cases, this issue affects adult children as Oklahoma doesn’t allow someone to disinherit a spouse or minor children.
When a legal heir such as an adult child isn’t mentioned in their parent’s will, they can fight for an inheritance. It doesn’t matter if the parent intentionally left them out of the will – unless the will explicitly disinherits a legal heir that can be legally disinherited, that person can litigate for an inheritance.
5. Improper Will Witnessing
Many people unfortunately assume that a will is valid as long as the testator wrote and signed it. The reality is that witnessing a will is a legal process intended to avoid problems such as undue influence or tricking someone who lacks the capacity to sign a will into doing so.
In Oklahoma, the witnessing requirements for a will are as follows:
- The will must be prepared by a testator who is 18 years old or older and of sound mind
- The will is in writing
- The will is signed by two witnesses present at the signing
- Another party may sign for the testator if they are physically unable to do so and directs the other party to do so (this party must not be a witness)
- Each witness must not have an interest in the will
6. Allegations of a Breach of Fiduciary Duty
Lastly, allegations that a breach of fiduciary duty occurred can arise in probate. Executors are tasked with the administration of the decedent’s estate, but they also owe a fiduciary duty to those named in the will. This means they are obligated to handle estate property with care and regard for how their actions could affect the heirs named in the will.
Allegations of a breach of fiduciary duty can occur when interested parties believed the executor engaged in self-dealing or otherwise mishandled the estate property.
Do You Require Assistance with Probate Litigation?
Whether you believe you have been wronged or need to protect yourself against accusations of wrongdoing, Bundren Law Firm can help. Our attorney has many years of experience helping clients protect their interests and assert their rights in probate litigation matters.
To learn more about how we can help you, contact us online now.