Toy house, gavel and text PROBATE. Real estate and law concept

The Connecticut Probate Court system handles matters involving wills, trusts, conservatorships, minors, guardianships and many other matters.  Sometimes disputes arise in the handling of these probate matters and it is helpful to have an attorney skilled in litigation fighting for you in Probate Court.  Other times, when someone disagrees with a Probate Court order, an appeal to Superior Court is available to contest the matter.  Additionally, depending on how a matter is handled by the Probate Court or fiduciaries handling a probate estate or conservatorship,  probate issues can become the center of lawsuits involving such parties as heirs, beneficiaries, executors (personal representatives), creditors, and sometimes even spouses. If you are involved in a probate matter and need a litigator in your corner in Probate Court, or if you have become a party who is interested in bringing a probate court appeal or a party who has been sued arising out of a probate court matter, it is important that you have knowledgeable legal counsel protecting your best interests. You need the probate litigation team of Stanfield Bechtel Law. We represent both plaintiffs and defendants,fiduciaries, heirs and interested parties in a wide variety of legal matters by applying our knowledge of the law and working for you either in Probate Court or in Superior Court to assist with your goals.

Will Contests

Heirs to an estate may not receive the inheritance they believe they would under a last will and testament. While this alone is not sufficient to challenge a will, there could be other problems with it such as:

  • Undue influence. Pressuring a testator (the individual who writes the will) to make sudden changes to a will may indicate undue influence. Cases like these often involve a stranger, such as a caregiver, who convinces the testator to alter a long-standing estate plan when the person is near death.
  • Mental incapacity. A testator cannot execute a will if he or she is not of sound mind. Evidence that the testator somehow lacked capacity could support a will challenge.
  • Fraud. There are many ways that fraud can alter an estate plan, such as forging signatures and swapping actual pages from the will for fake ones. If you believe a document purporting to be a will is not authentic, ask an experienced probate litigation attorney.
  • Improper execution. Certain formalities must be followed in executing a will. For instance, the document must be signed, witnessed, and notarized according to Connecticut law. Failure to prove these basic requirements may invalidate the will.

Additionally, you may be an interested party or heir to a will or due money from an estate and the fiduciaries may not be treating the estate properly. Or you may be a fiduciary who needs assistance in dealing with heirs or interested parties contesting every aspect of the estate. We can help on both sides of this.

Trust Litigation

A trust is a legal instrument by which one party (trustee) holds property for the benefit of a third party (beneficiary). The trustee is obligated to follow the instructions set forth in the trust and to act in the best interests of the beneficiary.

A beneficiary may argue that the trustee mismanaged trust funds or violated the trust instructions. Evidence of making unwise investments or misappropriation of assets could provide proof of this. The trustee can be held liable in court for poor or inappropriate decisions concerning trust property.

Many of the same reasons that beneficiaries challenge wills can be applied to trusts as well. We are able to assist beneficiaries, interested parties, or trustees if a matter is being contested.

Fiduciary Litigation

A fiduciary is someone with whom the law entrusts a high degree of responsibility. With respect to estate matters, some examples of fiduciaries are trustees, executors, and estate administrators. These types of fiduciaries assume their roles upon the passing of the testator (will) or settlor (trustee). But there are others like accountants and health care agents whose fiduciary obligations exist prior to an individual’s death.

Fiduciaries are required by law to act carefully with respect to a person’s estate. Specific examples of their duties include:

  • Putting the interests of estate heirs and beneficiaries first
  • Avoiding conflicts of interest
  • Avoiding self-dealing
  • Maintaining careful estate records
  • Making prudent decisions with estate assets

A court has the power to remove or otherwise hold accountable a fiduciary who fails in his or her role. If you believe a fiduciary has violated his or her duties or you’re a fiduciary who has been accused of wrongdoing, we can assist.

Conservatorship Proceedings

A conservator is someone who is appointed to make decisions on behalf of someone else, known as a conserved person. There is a legal process that must be followed to establish this relationship. In Connecticut, probate courts handle conservatorships of estates and of persons. Conservators of the estate have discretion to make decisions concerning the conserved person’s financial affairs, while conservators of the person may be given authority over the conserved person’s healthcare and living arrangements.

If you are a relative, heir or interested party regarding a conservatorship and do not believe the estate is being handled properly, or if you are a conservator whose decisions are being questions, we can help.

Powers of Attorney

Using a power of attorney, an individual known as a principal can delegate legal authority to someone else to act on that person’s behalf. The person who is delegated this authority, known as the agent, has the right to make certain decisions with respect to a wide array of financial matters like:

  • Real and personal property
  • Stocks, bonds, and investments
  • Bank accounts
  • Operation of a business
  • Insurance and annuities
  • Legal claims
  • Government benefits
  • Retirement plans
  • Taxes

Agents must act in accordance with the authority that is granted to them under the power of attorney and in consideration of the principal’s reasonable expectations or best interests. Failure to do so allows the principal to pursue a breach of fiduciary duty claim against the agent.

Elective Share

Connecticut law allows a surviving spouse to claim an elective share of the decedent’s estate which is generally equal to one-third of the net estate, depending on the size of the estate. The value of the net estate is the value of all property passing under the will, minus debts and liabilities against the estate. In some circumstances, it is possible for a surviving spouse to elect this statutory share even if the decedent has already provided for the spouse in the will.

To do so, the surviving spouse must file a notice with the probate court. The claim must be filed not later than 150 days after the decree that admits the will to probate is mailed. If this deadline isn’t met, then the surviving spouse may be denied the elective share.

Creditor Claims

Creditors can file claims against the estate for debts owed by the decedent at the time of death. The estate’s personal representative is required to pay these debts. But there are often disagreements over whether these claims are legitimate. When this happens, the creditor has the right to take steps to enforce its claim. We can help with these claims, or the defense of these claims.

There are a number of procedures and deadlines that parties on both sides of litigation must follow. Our firm represents plaintiffs and defendants in these actions, which may be resolved either in Probate Court, Superior Court or possibly through alternative dispute resolution (e.g. mediation).

Contact Our Connecticut Probate Litigation Attorney

These are not the only probate matters that may be litigated. If legal action has been taken concerning the estate, or you believe such action is warranted, it’s time to retain seasoned counsel. Stanfield Bechtel Law can help. Get started by giving us a call today.