Fiduciary Litigation – Objections to Estates, In Terrorem Clauses, and Suitability Claims
Will contests and estate litigation can be a field of legal landmines for the unwitting practitioner or a land of opportunity for clients represented by savvy and experienced counsel. In Massachusetts under our MUPC, a provision in a Will purporting to penalize an interested person for contesting the Will or instituting any legal proceeding potentially disrupting an otherwise uncontested probate, is enforceable and can cause forfeiture of the benefits for the contestant. Even alleging undue influence against the nominated fiduciary may cause forfeiture and revocation of benefits as well as a boomerang of fees and sanctions that could leave a contestant out of pocket and deep in the hole, if the objector does not carefully consider implications of an objection of any type to a petition for probate. On the other hand, an estate contest that sufficiently makes a case for incapacity can up-end a wrongfully procured testamentary disposition, and a demonstrable claim for the undue influence of a person who stood in a fiduciary position to the decedent during the decedent’s life which fiduciary benefited from the transaction in question, can shift the burden, forcing the fiduciary to not only defend his or her suitability to serve, but also to bear the burden of proving the absence of his/her wrongdoing. Before you take on a Will contest, you need to understand the pains and poetry of this body of law. If handled properly, Wills can be nullified, Trusts can be revoked, beneficiary designations can be rewritten and gifts can be disgorged. If handled with expertise, beneficiaries can be excluded or included, and lines of wealth can forever change hands and alter long-settled expectancies of lineage and legacy.
Please join us for an exciting discussion moderated by Lisa Cukier and with panelists and a judge who have first-hand knowledge!