A federal court in Connecticut recently dismissed a lawsuit brought by a Connecticut man who felt jilted after being excluded from his still-living father’s estate on the grounds the plaintiff had yet to suffer any actual injury. The case is a cautionary tale for both testators and heirs in situations where familial tensions can manifest themselves into lengthy and expensive court battles that may end up doing little to resolve tensions.
The petitioner in this case filed suit against his father, sisters, and PNC Bank which was acting as the trustee to the father’s living trust. The petitioner alleged his sister, who was acting as the testator’s health care proxy and using a general power of attorney to make financial decisions, asserted undue influence on the testator to exclude him from the estate.
Unfortunately for the plaintiff in the case, the federal judge ruled that his lawsuit failed to live up to the basic principles of when and why courts can hear cases. The judge determined that because the plaintiff’s father was still living and he had yet to be excluded from any expected inheritance, the testator’s last will and testament could not be invalidated as of yet.
Only a few states allow individuals to probate the will before passing away and allow heirs to challenge to challenge the validity of the document, New York is not one of them. That means if you are writing your last will and testament it can only be challenged in court after you pass away. Conversely, if you are the heir to an estate and understand you may be excluded from a will, you cannot make any legal challenges until the testator passes away.
While we all hope to pass on our estate to our family and friends with not disagreement, the truth is that no situation is perfect and some heirs may feel slighted if certain assets in the estate do not fall into their hands. One of the best ways to ensure an estate passes as quickly as possible through probate is to sit down and talk to heirs about what they can expect to inherit and why, this way there are no surprises when the executor reaches out.
Although there is little else one can do to prevent someone from challenging the validity of a will during probate, petitioners must meet certain legal requirements to prevent an estate from passing through probate. So long as wills are crafted while the testator is of sound mind and body and does not exclude his or her spouse, the estate is likely to survive any challenges and pass through probate.