Estate Litigation Can Complicate and Delay Estate Settlement

A New York estate lawyer is familiar with the numerous problems that can arise regarding the administration of a decedent’s estate. Sometimes these matters are the result of actions or relationships that the decedent was involved with prior to death. The estate executor or administrator has a fiduciary obligation to resolve these disputes. Assets of the decedent must be protected and creditors claims must be satisfied or disposed of.

A recent post at on February 9, 2015 by Austin Siegemund-Braka reports about another chapter in the settlement of the estate of the late pop star Michael Jackson. The post, entitled “Hollywood Docket: Michael Jackson’s Ex-Manager Revives Neverland Ranch Dispute”, relates the details regarding a claim by the pop-star’s manager for unpaid commissions earned during Michael Jackson’s lifetime as well as a claim for a fee for securing a loan on Michael Jackson’s Neverland property to prevent its foreclosure. The estate executors opposed the claims and both parties had filed lawsuits in 2012 that were put on hold pending other related proceedings. The Court has now lifted the stay to allow the issue regarding the Neverland loan to move forward.As is evident from the Michael Jackson proceedings, New York fiduciaries and estate beneficiaries should be aware of the complexity and length of time it may take to reach a resolution regarding a decedent’s business and inter-personal affairs.  I have represented many executors and administrators who were faced with the task of resolving lawsuits and other controversies that grew out of a decedent’s lifetime activities.  In many cases it seems that Surrogate’s Court lawsuits are never-ending.

Sometimes, disputes arise between beneficiaries regarding the terms of Wills and Trust Agreements. Even where time and effort is taken to prepare estate planning papers, unclear language and competing desires of family members can result in Court battles. In a post at on February 3, 2015, Austin Siegemund-Broka reports on a family dispute erupting with regard to the estate of Robin Williams. In a post entitled “Robin Williams: Widow, Children Clash Over Estate”, it is reported that certain language in Robin Williams’ trust document is the subject of different interpretations. This lack of clarity has resulted in Robin Williams’ children asserting rights over certain property while his surviving wife claims that the property belongs to her.

In New York, disputes regarding unclear language in a Will can be decided by the Surrogate’s Court in a construction proceeding. This type of Court case is provided for by Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act Section 1420. The controversy that is occurring in Robin Williams’ estate may be avoided by providing language in a Will or Trust that is crystal clear and not subject to possible different interpretations. One of the goals when creating advanced planning papers such as Wills, Living Trusts, Health Care Proxies and Powers of Attorney is to avoid confusion after a person becomes incapacitated or dies.

I have represented many clients and assisted with the preparation of their estate plan. It is important that these papers accurately and clearly reflect their intentions so that their estates can be administered without complications.

New York City probate lawyer, Jules Martin Haas has helped many clients over the past 30 years throughout Brooklyn and Nassau Counties resolve issues relating to estate litigation and settlement in New York Probate proceedings. If you or someone you know has any questions regarding these matters, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 for an initial consultation.

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