How Probate Litigation Can Defend Your Rights as a Beneficiary

One of the most responsible and loving gifts a parent or spouse can provide is an estate plan that clearly articulates the distribution of assets after their death. A solid estate plan can eliminate the probate process, protect wealth, minimize or eliminate taxes, and deliver financial security for generations to come. The wishes of the deceased are assessed, addressed through estate planning, often utilizing trusts. Without a plan, all assets and debts must go through the probate process with the oversight of a probate judge. In either case, probate court is always available to resolve financial and other issues after death.  

A good estate plan will spell out arrangements for the payment and collection of debts as well as the disbursement of any assets. Upon death, a trust administrator will go through a notification process in which they share the details of an estate plan with the relevant parties. More often than not, the wishes of the deceased can be met by simply implementing the estate plan. Both debt collectors and beneficiaries are usually able to accept the terms of the estate plan. On occasion, however, the notification process delivers unpleasant surprises for would-be beneficiaries who then turn to probate litigation to sort out disputes. 

A recent probate litigation case handled by the attorneys at Kevin J. Moore and Associates began many years ago when, endeavoring to do the right thing, a couple set up an estate plan. Their children, now adults, knew that when their mother died decades ago, assets had been set aside for them. As often happens, their father eventually remarried. He passed away after 20 years of marriage to his second wife. His adult children from his first marriage learned that they (and their children) would receive no inheritance; all assets would go directly to their step-mother, their father’s second wife. 

Knowing what the original arrangement was, the adult children engaged Kevin J. Moore and Associates to represent their probate litigation case. By investigating the legal machinations enacted since the mother’s death, they discovered that the primary estate plan called for half of the assets existing at the time of her passing to go directly to the father with the other half earmarked for a decedent’s bypass trust. During his lifetime, the father could access the funds in the decendent’s bypass trust if, for example, he had run through all of his own assets and needed medical care. After his death, the children would receive whatever assets remained. The father, however, altered the estate plan over time to divert all the assets to his second wife. Clearly, this was not what his first wife had intended for the assets she left behind. Diligent legal work led to the preservation of assets for the adult children and their families.  

Though the probate litigation experts at Kevin K. Moore and Associates guided their clients to resolution in this case, bringing a legal case isn’t always the best approach in these kinds of situations. Ideally, family members will work together to resolve any issues around debts and inheritance. When that’s not possible, pause to consider all the costs – emotional as well as financial – in pursuing a probate litigation case. Unlike filing suit against a company or institution to reconcile wrongdoing, a lawsuit in estate planning often sets up a dynamic in which you’re challenging your own family members and the emotional cost can be significant. 

If you’ve recently lost a loved one and need legal guidance on whether to pursue probate litigation, Kevin J. Moore and Associates can help you assess your situation and chart a path forward to protect you, your assets, and your family. Give them a call or send along an email with your inquiry. 

Kevin Moore, Founder of Kevin J. Moore & Associates, is focused in the areas of estate planning, trusts and probate services with additional expertise in both domestic and international business transactions and tax planning and tax controversy representation for individuals and companies.