Experienced Pennsylvania Attorneys Litigate Probate and Trust Disputes
What is Orphans’ Court?
The Orphans’ Court Division is one of the three divisions of the Court of Common Pleas, and, serves a number of functions including overseeing the administration of trusts and estates and litigation resulting therefrom, as well as protecting the personal and property rights of persons and entities incapable of doing so themselves. The name “Orphans” in the title of the Court is derived from the general definition of “orphan” as one lacking protection, not the common association of a child deprived by the death of his or her parents. It is the Orphans’ Court Division’s mission to ensure that the best interests of those persons and entities who are “orphans” in the general sense of the word, are not compromised.
The Court’s jurisdiction extends to minors, incapacitated persons, decedents, trusts, principals and agents under powers of attorney, non-profit charitable organizations, cemetery companies and marriage licenses. The Court appoints guardians for minors and incapacitated persons to handle their financial affairs and/or their health and safety needs. The actions and accounts of fiduciaries, including guardians, agents under powers of attorney, executors/personal representatives, administrators and trustees are examined and audited. The Court hears disputes involving inheritance and estate tax and marital license issues. Questions regarding the administration and distribution of the decedent’s, incapacitated persons’ and minors’ estates, testamentary and inter vivos (inter vivos is Latin for “between the living”) trusts, special needs trusts, non-profit corporations organized for charitable purposes, as well as Appeals from the Register of Wills are adjudicated and resolved.
Lancaster lawyers represent clients in inheritance conflicts
A loved one’s legacy can ease the pain of loss by reminding heirs of a departed family member’s enduring love. But when questions arise about the validity of testamentary documents or the management of estate assets, uncertainty can arouse animosity and prevent closure. If you, as a beneficiary, suspect that a will or trust does not reflect the wishes of the deceased, you have a right to challenge the proceedings in court. Similarly, if you believe an executor, trustee or estate administrator is mismanaging the assets of the estate or a trust, you have standing to raise that issue. On the other hand, an executor, trustee or estate administrator is entitled to a vigorous defense against accusations of incompetence or unlawful conduct. Metzger and Spencer, LLP provides highly professional representation for aggrieved beneficiaries and accused fiduciaries in estate and trust disputes.
Challenges to the validity of a will or trust
There are several bases for challenging the implementation of testamentary documents. These include:
- Lack of capacity — This ground alleges that the testator was not of sound mind at the time the will or trust was executed.
- Undue influence — Documents might be invalid if a person with access to and power over the testator used emotional manipulation to gain special consideration in the will or trust.
- Fraud — This ground alleges the testator was deceived about the contents of the documents at the time of execution.
- Void for vagueness — This ground asserts that the terms of a will or trust are open to conflicting interpretations and it is impossible to know which interpretation is correct. A challenger can prevent part or all of the will from being implemented.
Many probate and trust disputes stem from suspicions that a particular individual took advantage of the declining health or dementia of the deceased to insinuate himself into the will to the detriment of the rightful heirs. The court looks very harshly on this type of elder exploitation. However, it is important to note that disappointment is not grounds for an heir to challenge a will or trust. All challenges must be supported by reliable evidence.
Breach of fiduciary duty in estate settlement and trust management
The executor of a will, administrator of an intestate estate or the trustee of a trust is a fiduciary with a legal duty to manage the assets of the trust or estate according to the testator’s wishes and for the benefit of the beneficiaries. The fiduciary must perform at a professional standard so that assets are not lost due to waste, fraud, misallocation or mismanagement. Beneficiaries may challenge deliberate or negligent misconduct and demand a full accounting. Our attorneys have vast experience on both sides of trust and estate controversies. Our firm has close associations with forensic accountants who can render accurate assessments of asset management and help us assemble evidence to prove or rebut allegations.
Don’t expect success if you handle objections yourself
Many people hesitate to hire an attorney because they wish to keep a family dispute within the family. However, the court may treat your suspicions lightly if you raise them without a professional presentation and a firm basis in the law that an attorney can provide. Moreover, a seasoned attorney who has been through such negotiations before is likely to produce a settlement that satisfies all parties and allows the proceedings to move forward at less cost to the estate.
Contact an established trust and estate litigation law firm in Pennsylvania
Conflicts among beneficiaries or between beneficiaries and fiduciaries can be very destructive without experienced and knowledgeable legal counsel. Metzger and Spencer, LLP provides capable representation for beneficiaries and fiduciaries throughout Pennsylvania. Call today at 717-208-3145 or contact the firm online to schedule a consultation at our Lancaster office.