Probate and trust litigation is fostered by the elemental human forces of death, greed, familial animosity, and the success of medical technology in prolonging life beyond the patience of heirs. Disputes regarding the validity of the will or trust, the capacity of the testator, or any other disagreement in the management of a decedent’s estate can lead to probate or trust litigation. A will is intended to reflect the intentions of the decedent, but these intentions may be unclear at times. A trustee must follow the terms of the trust, but trustees sometimes act inappropriately. Disagreements may arise as to how and when funds are to be disbursed or enjoyed. Trust litigation can also arise when trust funds are mismanaged.
Litigation involving trust and estate matters often involves an emotional element not present in most other legal disputes and often involve the element of vindication for a perceived wrong that occurred during the decedent’s lifetime. Money sometimes can serve as a consolation in these disputes, but rarely is satisfactory. Litigation over wills and trusts and elder abuse is complicated by the jurisdictional complex of probate remedies and rules, the options of probate and civil jurisdiction, and the minefields sown by the taxing authorities, restrictive deadlines, and ethical prohibitions.