Prince Frederick Estate & Trust Litigation Attorney Serving Southern Maryland
Wills and trusts are legal documents. When questions arise regarding the interpretation of their terms or their validity or enforceability, interested parties turn to the courts for answers. With 45 years of experience in Maryland estate and trust litigation, attorney George Meng and the team at Meng Law in Prince Frederick are the ones to turn to for resolution of an estate or trust dispute in Calvert, St. Mary’s, Charles or Prince George’s County. See below for examples of the types of disputes which most frequently arise in Southern Maryland courts when it comes time to probate an estate. To explore your options when faced with an estate or trust dispute of your own, call Meng Law at 410-535-5500 to schedule a consultation with a knowledgeable, skilled and experienced Prince Frederick estate & trust litigation attorney.
Part of the probate process involves “proving” the will (probate comes from the Latin meaning “to prove”). In other words, the court must be satisfied that the deceased’s last will and testament is indeed the will which is being submitted to probate. Challenges, or will contests, often arise when a will was made later in life replacing a long-existing will, and that later will is submitted to probate. Challengers may claim that the testator lacked the mental capacity to make the later will or that the will was the product of undue influence on the testator by a close family member, second spouse, caregiver, etc.
A will contest may also occur for similar reasons when provisions in a will were altered, or if multiple wills are found in existence with different provisions. The creation of a will, the modification of a will, and the revocation of a will must all be done according to strict legal formalities under Maryland law, or they will not be considered effective. Other will challenges arise when an heir is omitted from the will and it’s not clear whether the omission was intentional or unintentional, or when an heir decides he or she might be better off taking a share under Maryland law if the will is declared invalid.
Part of the process of settling an estate is paying off claims against the estate. Creditors are notified when an estate is opened and given a period of time to present their claims for payment. These claims must be resolved before the estate’s assets can be distributed to heirs and beneficiaries according to the terms of the will. The Personal Representative of the estate is obligated to pay valid claims but also owes a duty to the estate to dispute spurious claims. Litigation may arise regarding the validity of a claim, whether a claim has been previously paid in part or full, whether payment should be excused for some legal reason, or other situations which render the claim invalid or unenforceable. Meng Law represents estate representatives in litigation to make sure only valid claims are paid, thereby preserving as much of the estate as possible for the benefit of heirs and beneficiaries.
The validity of a trust can be challenged in much the same way as a will is challenged, including allegations that the settlor was incompetent to make a trust or was the subject of fraud or undue influence. There are also rules for making a valid trust, and trust contests may allege one or more of these elements were missing (e.g. the trust must be in writing and for a proper purpose, beneficiaries must be definite or ascertainable, the same person cannot serve as sole trustee and beneficiary, etc.)
Trust contests may also be based on the performance of the trustee. As a fiduciary, the trustee must act for the benefit of the trust and its beneficiaries and must avoid self-dealing or conflicts of interest. The trustee is required to use sound business judgment and make prudent investments, and engage the help of professional advisors as needed. When the trustee is also a beneficiary, it can be difficult to determine whether an action that benefits the trustee was taken out of self-interest or for the benefit of all beneficiaries. Other trust challenges include allegations of negligence or misconduct, including misappropriation or theft of trust assets. Actions can be taken to remove and replace the trustee and to recoup losses due to the trustee’s misconduct. The failure to provide accountings of trust assets to beneficiaries upon request is another frequent source of trust litigation.
Breach of Fiduciary Duty
It is not only the trustee who acts as a fiduciary to an estate. Insurance agents, real estate agents and brokers, attorneys and other professionals may also owe fiduciary duties and be held liable if they breach those duties. Even property managers can be liable for damage to trust property caused by their negligence.
Inter-family disputes are a frequent source of estate and trust litigation. One example is a fight between children of a first marriage and the step-parent or step-siblings from a subsequent marriage. Another example is a disinherited child or other heir who expected to inherit. Also, disputes may arise when one member of a class of heirs is treated differently than other class members; for instance, an adult child who receives a smaller share than other adult children may be motivated to challenge the will or trust on various grounds.
Unmatched Experience in Southern Maryland Estate & Trust Litigation
For help with Prince Frederick estate & trust litigation, call Meng Law in Prince Frederick at 410-535-5500 to discuss your case with one of Southern Maryland’s most experienced estate and trust attorneys.