The news media often includes stories about family fights over estates, but disputes over inheritances are not limited to high-profile families. Estate litigation frequently involves a family member suing a close relative. If you are thinking about suing a family member over an estate dispute, proceed with caution. There are some important issues to consider before you make a decision.
When a loved one dies, individual family members may be surprised and disappointed at how the deceased individual decided to distribute his or her estate. However, disappointment — or even shock — is not enough to establish a basis for a court action.
There are a number of legitimate reasons for challenging an estate, including:
If you suspect there is a legal basis for challenging and estate, talking with an experienced estate litigation attorney is essential — and it is a step you should take early on in the process. The determination of whether any of these legal reasons exist for a particular estate requires investigation and analysis of the specific situation by a knowledgeable lawyer.
Emotions run high in family disputes over an estate. Litigation can tear a family apart, inflicting damage that lasts forever.
When family members disagree — and that disagreement escalates into litigation — it emotionally affects the parties involved in the case. Those emotions usually escalate over time as the legal process takes its natural course.
In addition, the dispute and resulting court case usually affect more than just the parties involved in the litigation. Other family members take sides, either outright or subtly by curtailing communication with one of the parties. In many cases, the disagreement envelopes the entire family.
If you consider pursuing litigation against family members, you need to prepare yourself for the fallout in your family. The aftereffects may last for the rest of your lifetime.
Estate litigation involves a complex legal process. It can take years to resolve the issues. While the litigation is pending, costs add up for the estate and for the person initiating the action.
Legal counsel representing both sides of the case charge fees. But there is more than just attorney’s fees to consider. A court action involves court costs, as well as expenses relating to gathering evidence, such as taking witness depositions and using expert witnesses (which is necessary in some cases).
Over time, the costs and fees add up. Those expenses decrease the assets in the estate. The individual bringing the lawsuit must be prepared to advance those costs, possibly for years.
Unless a court case ends in a settlement that satisfactorily resolves the issues for both sides, there will be a winner at the end. There also will be a loser.
No one — including seasoned litigation attorneys — can ever predict with certainty how a court case will end. Any of the numerous variables in a court action can change and affect the outcome, even as the litigation progresses.
Your lawyer will counsel you on the possibilities and address your expectations in the beginning. You need to be realistic about the potential resolution of your case.
On a positive note, a court action does resolve a dispute in the end, one way or another. You can read more about why litigation sometimes is necessary and how it resolves issues in our blog post, Litigation: The Power of Process.
Before you make the decision to ask the court to decide an estate dispute (and tell your family that you’re going to sue them), explore the options for other potential resolutions. This approach requires talking with an experienced estate litigation attorney.
While ultimately your attorney represents you and your position in all matters relating to the dispute, he or she begins by making an objective analysis about the factual and legal issues in your case — and shares that analysis with you. That process enables you to view a neutral assessment of the dispute without factoring in your emotional reaction to the circumstances.
In some cases, attorneys can resolve estate disputes through discussion and negotiation, without resorting to litigation. However, if you retain an attorney who is a seasoned litigation to assist in that process, your lawyer is well-positioned to pursue a court action if it becomes necessary.
My practice at the Dave Burns Law Office includes all types of probate and estate litigation. From the early investigatory and analytical stages of potential litigation, to efforts at negotiating a settlement, and ultimately to proving the case through evidence in the court hearing when necessary, I ensure that clients understand the complex litigation process, so they can make informed decisions.
I concentrate my practice on the Twin Cities metro area and am available to meet with clients in both Minneapolis and St. Paul. If you would like to discuss a situation involving a matter that may involve improprieties relating to a power of attorney, please contact me at (612) 677-8351 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I welcome inquiries from clients and referring attorneys throughout the State of Minnesota.
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