Decedent’s Estate and Trust Administration

There are certain life events, such as death or disability, in which one person may be called upon to manage the personal or financial affairs, i.e. the “estate,” of another. The following information concerns the administration of the affairs of the deceased. For more information regarding guardianship estates for a minor or a person with a disability, please see LINK.

When a loved one dies, the process of managing the decedent’s final affairs can be a daunting task for any family, with or without the guidance of a will, trust, or other documents. What should be done with a loved one’s will? Will it be necessary to open a case in the probate court? Does an estate tax return need to be filed? What should I do if I am named as a beneficiary in a will? What should I do first if I am named as an executor? These are just some of the questions that may arise following the death of a loved one.

The process of estate administration often includes handling a variety of matters, such as as the sale of real estate, paying creditors, locating and collecting the decedent’s assets, and issuing distributions to beneficiaries. When a decedent’s estate is required to be administered through the probate court, the administrator is further confronted with navigating the unique and complex world of probate law and fulfilling requirements imposed by the court. Those charged with handling a loved one’s final affairs may find themselves overwhelmed and in unchartered territory.

Our attorneys guide clients through the estate and trust administration processes each and every step of the way. Our attorneys and staff are experienced in the administration of all manner of probate, non-probate, and trust matters. We will assist you to determine when court intervention is necessary or appropriate and work with tax, accounting, and other professionals on your behalf. Our team will provide you with the advice and counsel necessary to ensure that a decedent’s assets are gathered, debts paid, and property distributions are made efficiently and professionally. We not only represent those who are entrusted to the administration of the trusts and estates of loved ones, but we also are experienced in representing estate and trust beneficiaries and other parties that may be involved in the administration of a decedent’s estate or trust. We are committed toward the amicable, reasonable, and fair administration of decedent’s estates and trusts.

Contested Estates and Trust Litigation

After the death of a loved one, it is always the hope that those left behind can grieve and honor the memory of that person in peace and with dignity. However, adversarial situations do arise. Disputes may arise before or during the administration process. There may be disagreements about the validity of the will, the competency of the testator, a beneficiary’s undue influence over the testator during his or her lifetime, as well as the interpretation of the terms of a will. During the administration of a will or a trust, creditors may attempt to lay claim to the decedent’s assets or beneficiaries may question or challenge the actions of a trustee or executor. Because these contentious situations often involve family members, they can be emotionally destructive and highly stressful for those involved. Legal support and intervention is often the only solution to these complicated problems.

Our attorneys understand that these scenarios can be complex from both a legal and emotional standpoint. When feuds erupt between family members, our team is prepared to be both an emotional and a legal buffer between parties. When court intervention is necessary, we are prepared to zealously represent our clients through tough, focused litigation strategies. Whether you are trying to defend a trust or an estate from a collateral attack or whether you are trying to challenge the validity of a trust or a will, it is critical to have experienced advocates on your team.

Our attorneys litigate all manner of estate, trust, guardianship, and will disputes, including claims for breach of fiduciary duty, undue influence, intentional interference with an inheritance or expectancy, lack of capacity, claims against an estate, recovery of wrongfully removed or stolen assets, and disputes over the administration of a trust. The experience and diligence our attorneys bring to bear provide clients with the resources to make good decisions on resolution options—settlement, mediation, or trials. In all cases, our wealth of experience representing trustees, executors, beneficiaries, and other parties to litigation has prepared us to provide you with the personal and legal support required to resolve a contested trust or estate.

Guardianship of Disabled Persons

Dealing with a loved one who is or has become mentally incapacitated is one of the most difficult experiences of a lifetime. This experience can be all the more challenging when it is necessary to seek the intervention of a court to protect the personal and financial health of a loved one who can no longer take care of him or herself. Our attorneys and staff work closely with our clients to navigate the legal and emotional landscape for those who seek to establish or to challenge a court-appointed guardianship.

A court-appointed guardianship is a protective relationship established by a court on behalf of a mentally incapacitated individual. In a guardianship proceeding, a court designates a guardian to protect the welfare and rights of individuals who are not capable of managing their own healthcare decisions and/or financial affairs. The guardian is vested with the authority to make medical or financial decisions on behalf of the incapacitated individual. In most cases, the guardian has the same duties, rights, and powers over the ward as a parent would have over a minor child. The guardian is required to refrain from self-interest and act only in the best interest of the ward. In the case of an incapacitated adult, this means acting with substituted judgment as a surrogate decision maker for the ward. Put another way, the guardian bases decisions on what the ward would have chosen if not under a disability, not what the guardian would choose personally. A guardian’s activities are overseen by a court and guardians are required to provide detailed reports to the court on an annual basis.

Several challenging scenarios may arise that result in the need to attain legal guardianship. For example, guardianship may be needed when a child with special needs turns 18 years old, when an adult loses the capacity to make personal decisions due to accident or substance abuse, or when a minor child receives an inheritance or legal settlement required to be managed by a court. However, the most common need for guardian arises when a previously-competent older adult loses the capacity to make personal decisions due to dementia or other age-related illness. A situation may also arise wherein there is evidence that an individual acting as a caregiver or an agent is abusing their authority, requiring court intervention to prevent further abuse.

Before seeking or challenging a guardianship, it is important to talk to an experienced attorney prior to taking any steps. In some cases, a review of the estate plan of the incapacitated individual may reveal that the individual had already planned for a future incapacity and put all the necessary documents in place to make their wishes known and eliminate the need for court intervention. In fact, we recommend that everyone establish a basic estate plan so that, in the event you ever do become incapacitated, no loved one will be faced with attempting to discern your wishes or be faced with an adversarial court proceeding to declare incompetence.

To learn more about estate planning services, please visit Estate Planning.

In all cases, our attorneys and staff have the multi-faceted experience to guide you through a guardianship proceeding and support you in your unique situation. Our attorneys and staff will work tirelessly with courts, physicians, law enforcement, housing, and financial experts to handle each client’s needs with compassion and professionalism.