Estate Litigation

Maine requires that before an estate can be settled and assets distributed, the estate must go through an administrative process. The process is overseen by the Probate Court and is managed by an appointed personal representative. The administration of an estate is a fairly routine process with defined steps including identifying estate assets, paying estate debt and expenses, and distributing assets according to the decedent’s will or Maine intestate succession law. Sometimes disputes develop during the process, and it ends up being anything but routine. Disputes, if not resolve through negotiation can lead to full blown litigation. Two of the most common reasons for estate litigation include disputes over the validity of the will and issues related to actions of the personal representative.

Will Contest

To initiate the probate and the estate administration process. If the decedent left a will, it must be submitted to the Probate Court. The judge will review it make sure it meets the technical requirements. If anyone objects to the will, the can initiate will contest. A will contest is a type of estate litigation. Legally accepted reasons for challenging a will include improper execution, undue influence, and lack of testamentary capacity.

Improper Execution

For a will to be valid, it must be executed in a manner that is consistent with Maine law. For example, in Maine, the will must be in writing, it must be signed by the testator, and it must be witnessed by at least two competent people who also must sign it.

Undue Influence

Another reason for a will contest is an allegation of undue influence. Undue occurs when the motivation behind making certain provisions in a will are not the testator’s wishes, but those of another person who influence impacts the validity of a will when someone with a motive and exerted illegal influence over the testator.

Undue influence generally occurs when the testator is isolated from family and friends and when they are frail due to age or ill health. The person who illegally influences the is someone on whom the testator has come to depend on and trust. However, the person uses that influence and trust to manipulate the testator in include terms in the will that they would not otherwise have included. Evidence of undue influence might include the will having unusual terms.

Testamentary Capacity

One of the requirements for making a legally valid will is that the testator must have testamentary capacity. This means that the testator must have been of “sound mind.”

Being of sound mind means that the testator must not have been mentally incapacitated at the time they executed the will.

Fiduciary Litigation

Another type of dispute that can lead to estate litigation occurs when a problem develops with a fiduciary involved with the estate. A fiduciary is a person who has the authority and the obligation to act for another person under circumstances that require total trust, good faith, and honesty. The administrator of an estate (executor, executrix, personal representative, estate administrator) is a fiduciary. Other fiduciaries involved in estate administration may include a trustee, attorney, accountant, or guardian. If an interested party feels that a fiduciary has in some way acted in bad faith, estate litigation could result.

The end of result of fiduciary litigation could be removal of the fiduciary and personal financial responsibility for the losses resulting from the fiduciary’s misdeeds.

Impact of Estate Litigation

The impact of estate litigation can be significant. For example, if the litigation is a successful will contest, then the probate court judge may throw out the will. If there is a prior valid will, it would be probated. As a result, distribution would be made to the beneficiaries of the prior will. If there is no prior valid will, then the estate would be intestate. The assets would be distributed to heirs according to state law.

Estate litigation can impact the length of the administration process. While the average length of probate and administration varies from state to state and the size of the estate, it generally takes from 3-12 months. Litigation can significantly extend that time. In addition, it can eat into the value of the estate as costs to initiate or defend litigation is often paid from estate assets.

Contact Information