In New York, there are laws that govern what happens to someone’s property and debts when they die. People have the option of creating their own plans, but an individual’s estate can require court oversight. Very large estates with complicated property often end up in court just to ensure there are no major mistakes.
However, even if your loved one carefully planned for the distribution of their property prior to their death, a challenge from a beneficiary or family member might derail the entire estate administration process. You could end up fighting in probate court instead of just following basic instructions about settling someone’s affairs.
Someone who is unhappy with their inheritance and believes that there may have been a violation of New York probate laws or an act of fraud could potentially challenge the existing documents or the efforts of the representative handling the process. Will a dispute or challenge related to an estate inevitably lead to court?
Many disputes settle before the court date
It can take quite some time to get a hearing for a contested succession matter. Disputes involving estates are quite common, and the courts often have more cases than time. It could be months before you have a chance to present evidence in front of a judge.
In the meantime, you may be able to negotiate with the other party. Some people even attempt mediation to resolve disagreements about estates and the efforts of the person managing the estate. Proper communication and an understanding of both the testamentary documents and New York state law will make a big difference for those hoping to settle an estate dispute outside of court.
What if it does go to court?
The good news is that judges are quite familiar with how entitlement and unfounded expectations can complicate the probate process. They will hear both sides of the situation, review all necessary documentation and interpret state law in a way that they believe is appropriate and fair given the circumstances. If you do have to go to court, the more documentation or witnesses you have affirming your position, the better your chances of success.
Understanding what happens in a contested estate scenario will help you make the best choices regardless of whether you are an executor or a potential beneficiary.