Estate Dispute Litigation

Legal Disputes Relating to Challenges of an Individual's Estate Plan

What is Estate Dispute Litigation

Estate dispute litigation, or probate litigation, consists of legal disputes over a decedent’s testamentary documents, such as a will or a trust. Estate dispute litigation typically involves family feuds, which can produce a lasting rift between family members while depleting the estate’s assets. These circumstances make it very important that you retain experienced and reputable legal counsel. DBSH is a long established and highly regarded estate dispute litigation law firm. We offer reliable advice based on decades of experience. 

Estate disputes come in many forms, including:

  • Will Contests —The validity of a will may be challenged on a number of grounds, such as undue influence, lack of mental capacity, fraud, duress, or mistake in the execution.    
  • Intentional Interference with Inheritance – This cause of action arises where an individual was to receive a portion of a decedent’s estate (inheritance), but was prevented from receiving the inheritance due to a defendant’s intentional and wrongful actions. In these types of situations, the individual seeks to recovery monetary damages directly from the defendant. 
  • Breach of Fiduciary Duty Actions — A person appointed by the court to administer a decedent’s estate has duties and responsibilities with which they are charged. Failure to properly administer an estate, either by overt act or by omission, can be actionable. Sometimes the remedy sought is removal of the fiduciary.  When funds have been wasted or mismanaged or excessive fees have been taken, the remedy can include monetary relief for the estate. 
  • Guardianship Contests — These are suits to decide supervision of a person (called the ward) who does not have capacity to make legal decisions. A ward may be a child who lacks capacity due to age or an adult who has lost capacity due to unconsciousness or dementia.

Frequently, estate dispute issues involve other legal issues and disciplines such as small businesses, real estate, family farm corporations and insurance. When that happens, our probate lawyers have the resources of our other lawyers who focus on those other legal disciples to help represent our clients fully.

What are Will Contests

A will contest action interrupts the probate of a decedent’s estate in order to determine the validity of a will. If family or friends have concerns as to whether the Last Will and Testament of a decedent was a true and accurate indication of their wishes, it may be necessary to contest a decedent’s will. 

Grounds for Iowa Will Contest

While there are numerous grounds for contesting a will in Iowa, the two most common are on the grounds of undue influence and lack of capacity. 

Undue Influence

In general, "undue influence" refers to the substitution of the desires and wishes of a testator for those of the will's beneficiary. Typically, a close relative, friend, or unscrupulous healthcare provider manipulates or defrauds an elderly or ailing person into declaring them the beneficiary of certain properties and assets through their will. 

While every case involving undue influence is different, some common notably factors include: a) decedent’s poor mental condition; b) decedent’s poor physical condition; c) decedent’s intelligence; d) a change in distribution from previous will; and e) involvement of the influencer with the decedent in drafting or executing the will. 

Lack of Capacity

If a person does not have the necessary mental capacity to execute a will, the will can be challenged as an invalid document.  In most situations, the level of competency to sign a will is a lower level than that necessary to sign a legal contract. A person has capacity to execute a will if he or she: (1) knows a will is being made, (2) knows the kind and extent of their property, (3) can identify his or her natural heirs, and (4) knows how he or she wants to distribute his or her property. 

While certainly helpful, factors like old age, physical failings, memory failings, or diagnosis of mental disease (dementia, Alzheimer’s, etc.) alone, do not establish lack of testamentary capacity. 

Time to File a Will Contest

If you are considering filing a will contest against a decedent’s Last Will and Testament, you must act promptly to protect your interest. Generally, a will contest in Iowa must be filed by the latter of: (1) four months after publication of second notice in a local newspaper or (2) one month after mailing notice to the party.

Contact a DBSH Estate Dispute Lawyer

Our attorneys represent beneficiaries, estate representatives and trust fiduciaries in a variety of estate dispute actions. We look for creative solutions to avoid expensive and divisive court battles, but litigate cases aggressively when a trial is necessary. Call us at (319) 234-4471 or contact us online to schedule an appointment to discuss your legal concerns. You can also submit an Initial Consultation Form, which allows our attorneys to assist you more efficiently. 

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