Probate is the process by which a deceased individual’s estate is settled with the state. This involves locating and validating the decedent’s last will and testament, the source of many objections and litigation efforts.
The will determines who will be appointed guardian to any surviving minor children as well as beneficiaries to the deceased’s assets. In order to be considered valid, or formalized, the will must be in most circumstances signed in the presence of two competent witnesses.
Still, even properly formalized wills are often disputed. Most objections to wills are brought under the argument that the testator was either the subject of undue influence or that the testator was not of sound mind.
If you are seeking to object to a will, we can review the facts of your claim and determine if you have a viable case. We can also help defend you against frivolous claims of a will’s inauthenticity.
Beneficiaries to one or more trusts can file claims against a trustee who is accused of mismanaging one or more of their duties. Those in charge of trust administration bear a fiduciary duty to the grantor of the trust, meaning that they are required to strictly follow the terms of the trust and make responsible and informed decisions in its management.
Litigation can be explored in a number of trust-related scenarios. These can include objecting to the validity of a trust document or calling into question suspicious or improper investments carried out by the trustee.
Trustees can also be held accountable for distributing assets in ways inconsistent with the instructions of the trust. Some unscrupulous actors may attempt to self-deal, giving themselves more than they are entitled to or providing themselves with excessive compensation for their services.
Our team can help you bring litigation against a trustee acting in bad faith. We will review the details of the trust, the alleged actions of the trustee, and determine how to move forward. We can also help you if you are a trustee accused of bad behavior.
Guardianship and Conservatorship Disputes
Conservators and guardians are appointed to care for persons who are unable to care for themselves. This can include minor children but also those with special needs and elderly loved ones with physical and mental health complications. Conservatorships or guardianships are often assumed by close family members, which can make conflicts involving these arrangements especially strained.
Conservators and guardians have a legal responsibility to act in their ward’s best interest, and when they measurably fail to honor that duty, litigation may be necessary to remove them. We can assist with efforts to extricate an unfit conservator or guardian who is unable or unwilling to act in good faith.
There are also situations where a conservatorship or guardianship may no longer be necessary if the ward has regained the ability to reasonably live on their own. Some conservators and guardians may refuse to step down, leading to a damaging, litigious struggles over control of the person, estate, or both. Our team can work with you and your loved one to resolve these matters as efficiently as possible.
When it is initially determined a loved one needs a conservator or guardianship in the first place, there can be some disagreement over who should assume the role. Courts tend to prefer that immediate loved ones serve as conservators or guardians where possible, but these family members are not always the best fit. Our West Des Moines estate dispute litigation attorneys can help you challenge the appointment of unsuitable conservators or guardians and guide you through the process of petitioning yourself.
Legal Action Against Fiduciaries
A fiduciary is someone appointed by an individual to act on their behalf and in their best interest. It is a common feature of estate planning, with powers of attorney, conservators, guardians, and trustees all serving as a type of fiduciary with varying responsibilities.
Because you likely appointed someone you trust and have a close personal relationship with, it can be shocking to learn when a fiduciary violates the legal responsibility inherent to the relationship. You may need to pursue legal action against any fiduciary who abuses their position.
Common ways a fiduciary can violate their duties include:
- Self-dealing. This is at the heart of many instances that might require litigation to resolve. A fiduciary must act on your behalf, not their own, and they are generally fairly compensated for doing so. Should they exploit the permissions you give to benefit themselves, they have failed to honor their duty as your fiduciary.
- Unlawful gifting. Gifts can have significant tax efficiency implications. Depending on the nature of the relationship, your fiduciary may have some latitude in choosing to gift certain assets to others as a means of benefiting your estate, typically within terms you define. Bad faith actors might choose to strategically give gifts to themselves or recipients that do not benefit you.
- Fraud. All fiduciaries are subject to a fair amount of scrutiny due to the nature of their duties. Trustees are required to communicate with both the grantor and a trust’s beneficiaries, for example, while conservators and guardians must generally provide regular updates to a local court. Should the fiduciary ever misrepresent or distort the facts in these official communications, they have violated their responsibilities and open themselves to litigation.
- Unlawful restriction of access to assets. Some legal relationships bestow the fiduciary with an immense level of access to a person’s assets, including their bank accounts and home. Conservators, guardians, and financial powers of attorney with broad abilities especially receive a large amount of access. The fiduciary must act in the individual’s best interest, and that typically involves not interfering when a person wishes to access their property. In some cases, a rogue fiduciary might move to lock an individual out from one or more pieces of their estate.
No matter what problem you face, our legal team can help you navigate fiduciary conflicts. We can work to quickly prepare litigation to address urgent conflicts and move to terminate relationships that are no longer viable.
Elder Abuse Legal Action
Elder abuse can be frighteningly common. It typically results from a conservator, guardian, or other close family member exerting undue influence on an elderly loved one with a limited ability to communicate or advocate for themselves.
Elder abuse can take many forms, including physical injuries but also emotional manipulation and abuse. It often involves the siphoning of financial and lucrative assets from the impacted senior and could even include forced alterations to a will or other parts of an estate plan.
The state of Iowa formalized its definition of elder abuse in 2014 to include physical, sexual, and financial factors, as well as those stemming from neglect. The revised statutes also allow for an efficient means of obtaining a civil protective order for an elderly victim.
If you suspect that your loved one is experiencing elder abuse, we can review the facts of your case and determine how best to move forward. We can pursue a civil protective order and explore other long-term means of protecting your family.
Advocating for You and Yours
Our team at Pearson Bollman Law is compassionate to the stresses and emotional tensions that come with estate conflicts requiring litigation. Because so many of these problems involve close members of your family, there is always the possibility that a dispute can turn ugly and become especially damaging. Our West Des Moines estate dispute litigation lawyers are determined to help you move through necessary legal action as effectively as possible. We do everything in power to achieve favorable results for our clients and have a full knowledge of how these cases are adjudicated in Iowa.