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Morristown Estate Litigation Blog

Are executor mistakes a breach of fiduciary duty?

Executors are responsible for handling an estate's assets. When it comes to estate administration, this may involve the settling of debts, the payment of taxes, and distributing assets to named beneficiaries. The role of an executor is important, which is why executors owe other interested parties a fiduciary duty.

Simply put, a fiduciary duty requires an executor to act in the best interests of other parties. If an executor fails to act in the best interests of others, it may be a breach of fiduciary duty and legal action may be necessary.

Can I contest a will?

When a loved one passes away, the last thing anyone wants to do is fight over his or her estate. Unfortunately, every so often, there is good reason to do so. For example, if one believes an issue exists with the will, filing a motion to contest it may be the right thing to do. Not just anyone can challenge a will, though. In New Jersey and elsewhere, only certain individuals have the legal standing to do this. 

To challenge a will, one must be affected by its terms, either personally or financially. Such individuals may be heirs-at-law, disinherited heirs-at-law, beneficiaries listed in a prior will or fiduciaries named in a prior will. Minors are the exception here, as they cannot initiate legal proceedings on their own. A parent or guardian may submit a motion to contest a will on behalf of a minor, however. 

Are your estate planning documents really that well planned?

Everything has been signed, sealed and stored in a safe place. Most New Jersey residents may believe that once they're done with estate planning and put the papers away, that's it. But what if things happen in life and those papers still sit there untouched? It could spell problems for an estate owner's loved ones.

Wills and other estate planning documents need to be kept current if an executor is to do the best job he or she was asked to do. An executor has about 100 tasks to complete in order to settle an estate, so having everything in order is a significant help. When changes happen in life, they should be reflected in an estate plan.

When the executor of an estate fails to do anything

Closing out a loved one's estate, whether the process is completed in New Jersey or elsewhere, is not necessarily easy. Even if the deceased did everything right and created an estate plan that included the designation of an executor, the actions of the executor may not sit well with beneficiaries. There are plenty of things an executor and beneficiaries may not agree on throughout the probate process, but no one expects the executor to do absolutely nothing. What can you do if the executor of your loved one's estate fails to start the probate process?

The executor has a significant job to complete. It can be overwhelming, and not everyone assigned to the position is prepared for all that it entails. Some may even drag their feet, feeling probate is something that does not require their immediate attention. No matter the reason for failing to open a probate case, beneficiaries have every right to be concerned with an executor's failure to act.

Estate litigation: When a monetary gift is not used as intended

Numerous New Jersey residents choose to give away some of their money as gifts to various institutions when they die. Does this mean that these institutions can use the assets however they want? Not necessarily. If restrictions are put on the gift and it comes to light that the receiving organization is using the funds improperly, estate litigation may be needed to resolve the situation.

In another state, the heirs of a prominent attorney have been trying to reopen their father's estate after learning that the $30 million he bequeathed to a law school is not being used per the gift restrictions. The funds are supposed to be used to cover full-ride scholarships for 30 students per year. Instead, it seems that the school is utilizing most of the money to attract other donors and pay fundraising staff salaries.

Out of the many estate planning documents, which do I need?

Putting together an estate plan can feel like a daunting task. There are so many estate planning documents available; many New Jersey residents may not know which ones they actually need. Here's the thing -- there is no one-size-fits-all estate plan. The various documents exist so that one can create a plan that truly fits their needs and estate planning goals.

What are the various estate planning documents available to New Jersey residents? Those most commonly used are the last will and testament, power of attorney -- durable and healthcare, beneficiary designations and revocable trust. One other document that one might wish to have is a digital asset management form.

Once established, can guardianship be changed or revoked?

There are several reasons why some New Jersey residents over the age of 18 require the assistance of others to make sound decisions about a number of things. This is why the state allows for those with certain disabilities to be placed in a guardianship. Once established, can guardianship be changed or revoked?

Guardianship is usually only considered as a last resort. Because it takes away one's right to make personal decisions, there needs to be evidence that going to this extreme is really necessary. The court will only consider granting a guardianship if a physician, licensed psychologist or Division of Developmental Disabilities staff member -- with first-hand knowledge of the person in question -- signs, under oath, that it is needed.

3 questions to ask your medical power of attorney

Recent news headlines should be enough for anyone to consider his or her future medical care. To be sure your relatives, friends, doctors, spiritual advisors and others respect your wishes, you probably want to draft a comprehensive health care directive. You do not want to leave your health care to chance. Regrettably, many New Jersey residents have not yet taken this important step.

When planning your medical care strategy, you may want to name a medical power of attorney. If you cannot make your own medical decisions, this person makes them for you. While New Jersey law allows you to designate essentially anyone as your medical POA, not everyone is equal to the task. Here are three questions you should ask to determine if you are selecting the right medical agent.

New Jersey estate litigation: How to keep stress low

If someone has named you as an executor of a New Jersey estate, it's a good idea to make sure you understand all the duties and obligations that entails. Estate litigation can be a complex, stressful process. Perhaps, you are an heir or beneficiary to someone's estate. Maybe you have been designated to have power of attorney for someone who is now incapacitated.

These types of issues and others are always less stressful to resolve if you understand state laws and know where to seek support, as needed. It is unfortunate but not uncommon for disputes to arise in connection with probate litigation. A will might be contested. One heir might claim that he or she was supposed to receive a larger portion of an estate. Issues like these have been known to cause serious rifts in family relationships.

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Thomas N. Torzewski, LLC

Torzewski & McInerney, LLC
60 Washington St
Suite 104
Morristown, NJ 07960

Phone: 973-532-2868
Fax: 973-359-0077
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