Estate litigation is on the rise, and if you are facing a dispute over a will or how a relative is dealing with property before their death, it can be very helpful to know your rights and obligations. We are living through a time of significant inter-generational wealth transfers. We also live in a part of the world where real estate prices mean that the value of the assets involved is more significant than ever before. This increases the stakes when it comes to how people decide to distribute their assets to beneficiaries under a will or trust.
A well-drafted will and a thoughtfully constructed estate plan will help ensure that the property and assets of a will-maker are distributed according to their wishes. However, even with careful estate planning, there may be situations where disputes arise over an estate before and after death.
Disputes over wills, estates, and family trusts are emotionally charged and can lead to hard feelings among family members. When strong emotions are involved, and important relationships are potentially at risk, it can be a tremendous help to have an objective estate litigation advisor in your corner. We can help you weigh the pros and cons of your options and give you the information you need to make an informed decision about how you want to proceed. We can then represent you in resolving the dispute either through alternative dispute resolution or in court, if that becomes necessary.
Wills, Trusts, and Estates Disputes
Even if a deceased person seeks advice from accounting and financial planning professionals, and has their will prepared by an experienced estates lawyer, disputes can arise. Some common sources of conflict are listed below.
- Inaccurate advice or mistakes about who owns an asset and whether it is included in the will. This might cover things like joint tenancies, joint financial accounts, gifts given during the will-maker’s life time, designated beneficiaries under insurance policies and so on.
- Legal capacity of the will-maker at the time they gave instructions to make or change a will. This dispute typically involves challenging the capacity of the will-maker. This may arise in cases where an elderly will-maker makes changes to an existing will after they have started to show signs of dementia or other cognitive difficulties.
- Undue influence or pressure on the will-maker by a third party to make decisions or deal with assets a certain way.
- Family estrangements resulting in a child or spouse being disinherited.
- A claim that a will is unfair, based on an unequal division of assets among relatives or in the case where a spouse or child has been disinherited. These kinds of disputes involve a wills variation application under the Wills Variation Act.
- Failure to comply with the legal requirements for making a will. Challenges of this nature may involve a BC court’s discretion to cure a deficiency in a will (essential fix a will so that it complies with the requirements for valid wills under the Wills, Estates and Succession Act, which is the statute that governs wills and estates administration in British Columbia.
In addition, many people do not seek professional advice and help when making a will or dealing with their assets so that it may be unclear what the will-maker’s true wishes were.
Disputes Can Also Arise Before Death: Dementia, Incapacity, Transferring Property
We also help people deal with issues related to the Patients Property Act which governs situations where someone can no longer handle their own affairs due to incapacity and third parties, often family members, have to get involved. There are many disputes that can arise over powers of attorney, representation agreements and committeeships.
Our estate litigation lawyers have experience dealing with these sensitive situations. We frequently help resolve disagreements among family members and friends. We fully understand the need for tact, diplomacy, and dispute resolutions skills focused on preserving the existing goodwill in these relationships.
When to Get Legal Advice About a Will or Inheritance
It’s a good idea to consult a wills and estates lawyer with litigation experience if:
- You have reason to believe that a will is unfair or invalid, or you are unsure if there you have grounds for challenging a will
- If you have been left out of a will (disinherited) for no valid reason
- You did not receive a fair share of the assets under a will as compared with other beneficiaries
- Someone is exerting undue influence or pressure on the will-maker
- You a will beneficiary, executor or trustee and another person is challenging the will
- You believe that an executor or trustee is acting improperly
- A person died without a valid will (called an intestacy) and there is a dispute about whether another person was the deceased’s “spouse” at the time of death.
Call Experienced Estate Litigation Lawyers on Vancouver Island
Our estates litigation lawyers work with clients to fully explore solutions to resolve wills, estates and trusts disputes in ways that preserve your rights while doing as little damage as possible to your family relationships.
Wills and estates can be a complex and confusing area of the law. If you have questions or concerns about your rights under a will or in relations to an estate matter, contact us. We can review your situation, explain where you stand, and outline what options you have, based on what you hope to achieve.
Wills and estates law overlaps with other areas of law including family law, insurance law and real estate law. For help with making or changing your will you may wish to consult one of our Wills & Estates lawyers.
Q: After I got married my friend told me that getting married revoked my will. Is that true?
A: The answer to this question is not simple, because it depends on when your will was made, what your will says, and when you were married. The legislation about wills has changed in the past few years. If you want to make sure that you will is (or is not) still valid, you should consult with a lawyer who can review the specific facts of your will against the applicable legislation.
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