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Estate Disputes: What to Know and How to Deal

April 3, 2024 Estate Disputes

Losing a loved one is often life’s most challenging experience, and it often comes with legal complexities. Estate disputes can arise during the probate process, adding a layer of stress and confusion to an already difficult time. This blog post will explore some common estate disputes individuals in North Carolina may encounter. We will also discuss strategies for navigating these challenges with compassion and expertise.

Understanding Probate and Fiduciary Litigation

Probate is a legal process that happens after someone passes away. It involves ensuring that all the person’s money and property are divided fairly between those who are supposed to get it. It also involves ensuring that any debts and taxes owed by the person who passed away are paid.

Fiduciary litigation occurs when there is a disagreement about how someone manages assets that belong to another person. For example, suppose someone is responsible for managing another person’s money, and they make choices that are not in the best interest of the person they are supposed to be helping. In that case, it might lead to fiduciary litigation.

Fiduciary litigation may involve disagreements over how money or property should be divided, arguments over what legal documents mean, or even disputes about whether someone’s plan for their assets is valid. If you find yourself in this type of disagreement, working with a lawyer experienced in this area of the law could be beneficial. They can help you navigate the process and make sure you understand everything that’s going on.

Common Types of Estate Disputes

Lack of Valid Will: 

When someone dies without a valid will, North Carolina’s intestacy laws determine how their property and assets will be divided among their family members. However, disagreements may arise if family members cannot agree on who should get what. Furthermore, if the will is not considered valid, there may be disputes over the distribution of the deceased person’s property. This can happen if someone questions the authenticity of the will, such as whether it was made under duress or if the person had the mental capacity to create a valid will.

Claims of Undue Influence: 

Undue influence happens when someone applies pressure or manipulates the testator (the person making the will) to alter their estate plan in favor of the influencer. Some signs of undue influence may include sudden modifications to the will that benefit one person over others, the isolation of the testator from family and friends, or the participation of a caregiver or new acquaintance in the estate planning process.

Breach of Fiduciary Duty: 

Fiduciaries are legally responsible for acting in the beneficiaries’ best interests. Disputes may arise if a fiduciary fails to fulfill their duties, mismanages assets, or acts in a self-serving way that is against the terms of the trust or estate plan. Breaches of a fiduciary duty can result in financial losses for beneficiaries and damage trust among family members.

Disputes Over Asset Distribution: 

Disputes regarding asset distribution can arise when beneficiaries have conflicting opinions about the recipients of specific property or how the assets should be divided among heirs. Common sources of contention are real estate, personal belongings with sentimental value, and valuable assets such as investments or business interests.

Challenges Regarding the Personal Representative or Trustee’s Actions: 

Personal representatives, also called the executor or administrator, and trustees have significant responsibilities when managing estates and trusts. Disputes may arise if beneficiaries raise objections regarding the decisions or actions taken by these fiduciaries. Such objections could pertain to the sale of estate assets, investment strategies, or the interpretation of trust provisions. Personal representatives and trustees must fulfill their fiduciary obligations and act impartially, ensuring no conflicts of interest.

Factors Contributing to Estate Disputes

Family Dynamics and Conflict

The dynamics within a family can significantly impact the probability of estate disputes arising. Long-standing tensions, sibling rivalries, or disagreements among family members can escalate during the probate process, especially if significant assets are at stake. It is crucial to employ effective communication and resolution strategies to mitigate family conflicts and reach amicable resolutions.

Ambiguities in Estate Planning Documents

Ambiguities or inconsistencies in a will or trust can lead to disputes among beneficiaries. Therefore, it is crucial to have clear and comprehensive estate planning documents that precisely reflect the testator’s intentions. Regular reviews and updates to your estate plan can prevent potential disagreements in the future.

Emotional Components of Grief and Loss

The grieving process can be emotionally challenging, and conflicts over estate issues can worsen feelings of loss, resentment, or mistrust among family members. It is essential to acknowledge the emotional impact of estate disputes and deal with them with empathy and sensitivity. Seeking help from family therapists, counselors, or support groups can assist you in coping with grief and managing estate disputes more effectively.

Resolving Estate Disputes in North Carolina

Mediation and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

Mediation is a non-adversarial method to resolve estate disputes outside of the courtroom. A mediator, who remains neutral throughout the process, helps the parties communicate with each other and reach mutually acceptable agreements. Mediation is an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) method that can save costs and time compared to traditional litigation. It also helps preserve family relationships and reduces the emotional strain of probate disputes.


In situations where disagreements cannot be resolved through talking or mediation, taking legal action might be necessary to protect the rights and interests of the beneficiaries. The legal process involves submitting legal documents, collecting evidence, presenting arguments in court, and seeking a resolution from a judge or jury. It is essential to have a knowledgeable and experienced legal representative to guide you through the challenges of litigation and fight for your rights in court.

The Importance of Experienced Legal Counsel

When dealing with estate disputes, seeking advice from an attorney experienced in probate and fiduciary litigation is essential. Experienced legal counsel can provide valuable assistance and representation, helping clients navigate the legal process, safeguard their rights, and fight for fair and just outcomes. By working with experienced attorneys, individuals can confidently approach estate disputes, resolve them successfully, and reduce stress and uncertainty.

Final Thoughts

Dealing with estate disputes can be overwhelming, especially when you are grieving. However, it is essential to understand the common challenges and factors leading to estate disputes. This knowledge can help you proactively safeguard your interests and reach a resolution. Whether you choose mediation or litigation, having experienced legal counsel by your side can ensure that you navigate through the complexities of probate and fiduciary litigation effectively. At Carolina Estate Planning, we are committed to providing our clients with compassionate, and dedicated assistance. Our aim is to help you achieve a favorable outcome and successfully navigate your estate dispute.

If you have any further questions about estate disputes or would like assistance with an estate dispute, contact our law offices today.

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Jeffrey L. Bloomfield Founding Attorney
Jeff is a highly dedicated and accomplished lawyer with a wealth of experience in various areas of law, particularly focusing on tax, estate planning, and estate administration. His expertise and genuine passion for charitable planning make him a sought-after advisor for families looking to structure their initiatives using trusts.

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