The Problem – part one.
It is an unfortunate reality that parents or other loved-ones nearing the end of their lives are uniquely vulnerable to persons, whether family members, care-givers, lawyers, or even relative strangers, who prey upon them for their money. These people may seek to unduly influence the dying person to disown or disinherit children, spouses, or others whom they really care about the most and had previously chosen to receive their assets. A person in the last stages of life may lack the mental competency to make decisions about their estate, and/or they may be easily led to gift their assets to a person who is opportunistically at the center of their lives as they near death. Children or others who have been cut or frozen out of estate plans have the right to challenge the validity of the estate planning documents instruments where there is evidence that the new beneficiaries have exercised undue influence on the decedent to change their estate plan or may have manipulated a decedent to sign documents that the decedent didn’t understand.
The Problem – part two.
On the other hand, the death of a parent or other loved one frequently leads surviving family members who expected generous gifts from the decedent that didn’t materialize to lash out at those who are beneficiaries in the estate plan and to attack the favored family members with false claims of undue influence by psychological manipulation, physical coercion, fraud, or other misconduct. The beneficiaries who are the victims of these attacks must defend themselves before the Court in order save their inheritance.
What can be done?
The law presumes that a properly executed will, trust, or deed is to be enforced. Challenging end-of-life decisions to change estate plans requires careful and extensive marshalling of evidence to show the Court that the will, trust, or other document was not properly executed, was signed at a time when the decedent didn’t know or understand what they were doing, or was the result of psychological or physical coercion. On the other side, if your inheritance is being challenged by someone on grounds such as that the decedent lacked competence, that you unduly influenced the decedent to change their gifts, or committed fraud against the decedent, you also need to have the evidence of your innocence of such conduct carefully marshalled and presented to the Court.
We can help.
The Law Offices of David H. Schwartz, Inc. has the experience and resources to effectively develop the evidence necessary to prosecute or defend challenges to estate plans, wills, and trusts. Estate litigation often arises in the emotionally charged period following a loved-one’s death. We appreciate the difficulty faced by our clients who, mourning the loss of their loved one, are confronted with the necessity of litigating a challenge to the estate. If you are faced with estate litigation, call us to arrange a free consultation on how best to proceed and cope with that challenge.