Probate is the process for wrapping up a person’s final affairs upon their passing, since various legal and financial matters linger after someone’s death. There are the decedent’s assets that must be distributed, debts to be paid, and other relationships and dealings that need to be resolved. During the North Carolina estate administration process, disputes are common. The personal representative, creditors, heirs, beneficiaries, and other parties often have diverging interests, and they will seek to protect their rights when necessary. Fortunately, if the estate becomes involved in litigation, the personal representative has the statutory power to sue or defend. This person steps in the shoes of the decedent to pursue a lawsuit or fight allegations against the estate.
No matter what your role may be in probate and estate administration, it is important to know the types of lawsuits that may arise. Some may be related to the deceased person’s acts while alive, and others stem from the legal proceedings themselves. Because estate litigation is extremely complex, you should rely on a Union County probate and estate administration attorney for assistance with the following:
Most decedents will have a few basic bills to pay, and some estates could involve large amounts of debt. When the person who died owes money, the debt transitions to the estate. Examples include bills for utilities, credit cards, lines of credit, auto loans, mortgage on individually owned real estate, and many other debts.
With respect to debts, the personal representative has two duties that could result in disputes and litigation over creditor claims:
1. The estate is only required to pay those amounts that are verified by documentation, and it will deny those that are not proven.
2. The personal representative must send notice to known creditors and publish a notice for the benefit of unknown creditors that might not know of the decedent’s passing. A creditor may file a lawsuit based upon allegations that it should have received notice as a known creditor.
Disputes Over Appointment of a Personal Representative:
The individual who acts on behalf of the estate is the personal representative. This could be someone named in a will as executor, as well as a successor executor. However, when there is no will, the court will appoint someone to administer the estate.
Heirs and beneficiaries may have grounds to dispute the appointment of an executor or the personal representative in an intestate estate. Estate litigation may include allegations that:
- The personal representative is not qualified to serve because of a felony conviction;
- The individual is not literate or otherwise unfit;
- Multiple individuals file a petition to be appointed as estate administrator in an intestate estate; and,
- The named executor is the decedent’s ex-spouse, but the will was not changed after a divorce.
Heirs are the people who are entitled to share in the decedent’s estate under North Carolina law, while beneficiaries are those named by the deceased person to receive distributions. Both heirs and beneficiaries could be affected when there are issues with the will execution. They have the right to dispute its validity through a will contest. In this type of estate litigation, allegations may include:
- The testator was not of sound mind, so there was not testamentary capacity to create a will.
- The person suffered from duress, undue influence, or other unlawful pressure to sign.
- The will was not properly witnessed by two neutral individuals.
Breach of Fiduciary Duty:
Estate litigation can also result when an interested party files a lawsuit over alleged misconduct by the personal representative. The executor or administrator is in the position of a fiduciary, a role that carries numerous duties. For example, the fiduciary is required to exercise due diligence and reasonable care in managing the estate. That person must also disclose conflicts of interests and maintain confidentiality when necessary.
Any breach of fiduciary duty could lead to removal. A court could also order the person to pay the estate back for any amounts that were misappropriated.
Discuss Your Rights with a North Carolina Probate and Estate Administration Lawyer
If you are an interested party in estate litigation, it is critical to retain skilled legal counsel to protect your rights. Our team at Plyler, Long & Corigliano, LLP has in-depth knowledge of the laws, backed by years of experience with all aspects of estate administration. Please call us today at 704-741-5804 or go online to schedule a consultation at our offices in Monroe, NC. We can advise you on details after reviewing your situation.