Handling the death of a loved one is tough enough, so you don’t want unnecessary stress or conflict over their estate. However, if there are multiple heirs with rights to the estate, it’s common for there to be probate disputes and/or the need for litigation.
Why Probate Litigation May Be Necessary
There are a number of reasons that make probate litigation necessary. Someone may challenge the validity of a will; the rightful heirs must be identified; or there may be allegations that an executor, power of attorney, or guardian breached their fiduciary duties.
Probate courts must abide by the terms of valid wills that comply with Tennessee law. However, when someone doesn’t agree with the terms of the will, a dispute may arise. Often, people seeking to dispute a will allege one or more of the following:
- The testator (person making the will) lacked the mental capacity to make the will. Most states have requirements about who can make a will. In Tennessee, the testator must be at least 18 years old and of sound mind. If the testator did not understand the significance of creating a will or the contents of it, a potential heir may challenge the will in court.
- The will was not executed according to the requirements of Tennessee law. To be valid and enforceable, a written will must be signed by the testator or by someone else on behalf of the testator in the testator’s presence and pursuant to the testator’s direction. Additionally, two people who are not beneficiaries of the will must sign it in front of each other and the testator. If the will is not properly signed or witnessed, its validity may be challenged in court.
- The testator was under undue influence or duress. If the testator was threatened or pressured to include specific provisions in the will or to create a will, then the will may be invalid and successfully challenged in court.
- The testator made changes to the will that were invalid. Changes that are not part of a properly executed codicil could cause the will to be challenged.
While there is a presumption that wills are valid, the court may find a will invalid for any of these reasons. If that happens, the estate may proceed according to the laws of intestacy rather than according to the wishes of the decedent.
Whether you are seeking to exclude someone from or include someone in the estate, disputed heir issues could be personal, emotional, and complicated.
If someone dies with a valid will in Tennessee, the will almost always decides who is an heir. The only exception is a spouse who has special protection under the law. Children may be disinherited or treated differently pursuant to a valid Tennessee will.
However, if someone dies without a valid will in Tennessee, the laws of intestacy may make determining heirs more complicated, and disputes that require litigation may arise.
Breach of Fiduciary Duty
Powers of attorney, guardians, and estate executors or personal representatives all have different jobs to do, but they all have something in common. They all are in positions of trust and must act according to the wishes of the decedent and in the best interest of the estate or the heirs. If any one of these people breach their fiduciary duty in a way that causes harm, probate litigation may be necessary to protect the rights of the heirs.
Contact the Luna Law Firm
It’s possible that other, more emotional reasons cause people to dispute probate issues. For example, children who are treated unequally, romantic partners who are excluded from the will, and business partners who feel their business is at stake may seek to challenge a will.
If you think you might need to challenge a will or probate matter, we encourage you to contact our Tennessee probate litigation lawyers as soon as possible. Your time to take action is limited, and we will do everything we can to make sure that your rights are protected.