Role of an Expert Witness in Estate Litigation

The role of an expert witness with a hand on the bible in court.

Estate litigation is a highly nuanced area of law — and one where emotions often run high. While the focus of estate litigation is to resolve disputes in connection with the administration and distribution of a decedent’s assets, expert witnesses can often play a critical role in certain aspects of these cases. Depending on the dispute, an expert witness can assist with determining the value of the decedent’s property, detecting fraud, and identifying irregularities in financial records. In such cases, they can work alongside your attorney to provide their insight, knowledge, and opinions to support your position.

Types of Expert Witnesses in Estate Litigation

An expert witness can bring specialized knowledge and experience to an estate litigation case. They can be called upon to testify by either the plaintiff or defendant to provide objective opinions based on their training and help the court to understand complex issues. There is not one particular type of expert witness who must testify — the expert that is brought into a case will depend upon the specific issues that must be resolved.

The following types of expert witnesses can play a critical role in resolving an estate litigation matter:

  • Forensic accountants — If there is an issue regarding fraud, financial mismanagement, or embezzlement, a forensic accountant may be hired to analyze bank statements, evaluate financial documents, and calculate the economic damages incurred as a result.
  • Appraisers — Appraisers can help to determine the fair market value of the decedent’s property, including real estate, personal property, or business interests. They can also assess the accuracy of any existing appraisals and identify whether they were undervalued or overvalued.
  • Psychiatric experts — Psychiatric experts are regularly used in cases where a testator’s capacity is at issue. For instance, if an heir or beneficiary is arguing that the testator lacked capacity at the time a will was signed, an expert witness can provide testimony as to whether the decedent was competent.
  • Handwriting experts — In some cases, a beneficiary might argue that the decedent’s will should be rendered invalid due to a fraudulent signature. In the event a testator’s signature on a will is in dispute, a handwriting expert may be brought into a case to determine whether it should be authenticated.
  • Investment experts — Financial investment experts can be used to testify in an estate litigation matter if there is a question regarding whether a trustee was in compliance with their fiduciary duty to prudently invest and manage the assets in a trust.

The above are just a few examples of expert witnesses that may be used in estate litigation. An expert witness can be used to clarify nearly any issue that is in dispute. Other expert witnesses that can be used might include those who can testify regarding tax matters, art valuation, and other property valuations. In addition to providing testimony at trial, experts can also be used in a case on a consulting basis.

What Qualifies Someone to Be an Expert Witness?

An expert witness is someone who can explain a complicated issue in layman’s terms. They aren’t required in a case if facts can easily be applied. Rather, an expert provides the jury with unbiased information based on their education, experience, and professional background regarding a matter that would otherwise be difficult to understand.

There are no specific set of qualifications for an expert witness in Minnesota. But while they do not necessarily have to have had formal training on the particular subject, an expert must possess specialized knowledge in order to form an expert opinion that would be admissible in court. The Minnesota Rules of Evidence specifies that an expert must have “any knowledge, skill, or experience that would provide the background necessary for a meaningful opinion on the subject.”

To select an expert witness, an attorney will typically review any relevant information concerning their qualifications, including their resume and publications. The attorney will also consider whether there are any conflicts of interest or other issues that could impact the expert’s credibility. After conducting an interview with the expert, the attorney will decide whether the expert will be able to provide reliable testimony — and whether they should be retained in the case.

Contact an Experienced Minnesota Estate Litigation Attorney

If you are facing a complex probate or estate litigation matter where an expert witness may be needed, it’s vital to consult with a skillful probate and estate litigation attorney. At Dave Burns Law Office, I provide diligent counsel for a broad scope of probate issues and have extensive experience litigating complicated estate matters. If you would like to discuss a probate or estate litigation matter, I welcome you to contact me at (612) 677-8351 or by emailing I represent clients throughout the Twin Cities metro area and am available to meet with clients in both Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Categories: Litigation

The Dave Burns Law Office hopes you find this article helpful. But please do not rely on it as legal advice. The law changes regularly and the outcome of any legal matter depends on its unique circumstances. View full disclaimer