Estate litigation is complex and often emotionally challenging, dealing as it does with disputes that arise after a death in the family. At Randall J. Borden, Attorney at Law, we have more than 30 years of experience helping clients in Virginia resolve disputes about the distribution and management of estates. 

As a well-respected estate planning attorney with a history of successful outcomes, Randall Borden has the well-honed skills and sensitivity to handle all types of estate litigation with competence and compassion. If you are facing the added stress of estate litigation after the loss of a loved one, contact our Fairfax office now. Attorney Borden will provide you with the strong legal representation and personal attention your circumstances require. 

Causes of Estate Litigation

Estate litigation commonly arises due to arguments among beneficiaries or between beneficiaries and the personal representative (executor) or trustee. Any of the following may be the cause of a conflict that makes litigation unavoidable:

Dying Intestate: When the deceased has not left a will, there may well be strife since without a will that states the decedent’s wishes the state will see to it that estate assets are distributed according to state laws of intestate succession which are based strictly on bloodlines. Such action often gives rise to resentments and inflammatory disagreements.

Ambiguity in Will or Trust Documents: Unclear language or contradictory terms in wills or trusts can lead to disputes over the testator’s intent. By the same token, if more than one will exist, conflicts surrounding which one is valid are also possible. 

Disputed Property Ownership: Conflicts over who owns certain property at the time of the testator’s death can also arise since there may be no documentation that a particular item (e.g. a car, a piece of jewelry) has been given or promised to a particular individual.

Suspected Undue Influence or Coercion: In many cases, one family member or caretaker had been tending to the physical needs of the deceased or handling their finances. If that person is left a substantial legacy, other relatives may allege that the deceased was unduly influenced or coerced into making decisions about their asset distribution.

Claims of Creditor: Creditor claims to estate assets may be disputed as exaggerated or fraudulent.

Underlying family tensions, some of which have been simmering for decades, often exacerbate such disputes, making it more likely that those with opposing views will end up in court. Having a knowledgeable estate litigation attorney at your side from the beginning will stand you in good stead whichever way the wind blows.

Challenging the Validity of a Will 

In Virginia, as throughout the country, you have to be “an interested party” to contest a will. This means that you must either be a beneficiary named in the will or a person who would have inherited according to the laws of intestate succession if the deceased had died without one.

There are several legitimate grounds for contesting a will:

  • The will failed to meet statutory requirements, for example, if it is partly handwritten and/or illegible, unsigned, or unwitnessed. 
  • The will was created under pressure or coercion.
  • The testator lacked the mental capacity to understand the nature of the will and its implications (lack of testamentary capacity).
  • The testator made mistakes in naming or identifying beneficiaries.
  • The will was procured by fraud, e.g. the testator was misled or deceived into signing.

Breach of Fiduciary Duties

Being a fiduciary means that you have a legal obligation to act in the best interests of the beneficiaries of a will (if you are a personal representative or executor) or trust (if you are the trustee). Breaches of fiduciary duty occur if individuals who have taken on these roles:

  1. Fail to properly manage estate assets by mismanaging funds, misappropriating assets, favoring particular beneficiaries, and investing in high-risk entities.
  2. Act in their own best interests rather than the best interests of the beneficiaries they must serve.
  3. Neglect to provide accountings or pertinent information to beneficiaries as required by law.

Will and Trust Construction and Interpretation

Disputes may also arise regarding the interpretation and construction of wills and trusts. Areas of contention may include:

  • Understanding the testator’s intent: Courts look carefully at the text and nuance of the language of the will to determine the testator’s intent. They also examine and consider other relevant evidence about the testator’s wishes.
  • Turning to legal principles that govern construction: Such rules apply when a will or trust is ambiguous or when external circumstances change in unexpected ways, for example when a beneficiary dies before the testator.
  • Trust reformation to clarify the testator’s intent: In some cases, the court may reform trusts to correct mistakes so that the document better aligns with the testator’s intent.

Talk to Our Fairfax Estate Litigation Attorney Today

In most cases, the sooner potential litigation issues are addressed, the greater the chance that they can be resolved out of court. For this reason, the sooner you contact Randall Borden the more likely it is that his advanced diplomatic skills will lower the temperature of the existing conflict. Equally as important, however, is the advantage being proactive bestows if the dispute in question does go to court. In that case, Attorney Borden will already be prepared with an effective, trial-ready strategy. 

Contact him now for potent legal advocacy. For him, as for you, the ultimate goal is to resolve disputes in a manner that honors the intentions of the deceased and protects the rights of all parties involved, especially yours.