Pittsburgh Estate Litigation Lawyers
Trusted Pittsburgh Estate Litigation Attorneys Ready To Assist You
Western Pennsylvania, including Pittsburgh in Allegheny County as well as the six other counties that make up the Greater Pittsburgh Region, is blessed with an excellent court system. This includes the Allegheny County probate court, whose job it is to distribute property to the survivors of people who have recently died. Probate is something that involves nearly everyone sooner or later. The very reality of human mortality ensures that much.
Estate litigation refers to probate disputes over the distribution of the property of someone who died. Most estate litigation revolves around challenges to the validity of a last will and testament, demands for distributions under a claim of legal right (a spouse’s statutory portion of the property of the deceased, for example), and claims for compensation to the probate estate due to various kinds of misconduct that decreased the value of the estate. It is best to speak with a skilled lawyer.
Governing Law and Typical Disputes
The Pennsylvania Probate, Estates, and Fiduciaries Code governs most aspects of estate litigation throughout Pennsylvania. For example, the form and execution of a will in Pennsylvania is governed by strict standards which, if not followed, can result in the invalidation of a will with serious consequences to beneficiaries.
Any “interested” party can initiate a dispute in probate court. An interested party is someone who stands to gain or lose based on how the dispute is resolved. A beneficiary of a will might stand to lose, for example, if the will is invalidated, while someone who was not named beneficiary might stand to gain that way. Either one could qualify as an interested party.
Examples of common probate disputes include:
- A claim that the will was signed by someone who forged the deceased’s signature;
- A claim that the deceased suffered from dementia at the time the will was signed;
- A claim against the probate estate filed by a creditor (a bank with a mortgage on the deceased’s home, for example); or
- A claim of self-dealing or fraud against the personal representative of the estate (the executor).
“The attorneys at KDS Legal have represented me in an estate matter for over five years – through both trials and multiple appeals they never gave up on me or my case…and eventually they won.”
Related Practice Areas
We also represent clients in the following related areas of law, including:
- Estate planning
- Wills and trusts
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What happens if a will is invalidated and no valid will is found?
In this case, your probate estate will be distributed according to the formula set forth in Pennsylvania’s intestate succession law. If your spouse and/or children survive you, they will be the primary beneficiaries. The following types of property will not be affected:
- Assets you have placed into a living trust;
- Funds you keep in a retirement account;
- Securities in a transfer-on-death account;
- The contents of any payable-on-death bank accounts;
- Life insurance proceeds; and
- Property you own in joint tenancy or tenancy by the entirety.
What is the standard of proof in estate litigation?
The standard of proof is “preponderance of the evidence,” which means something like “51 percent likelihood” or “more likely than not.” This is a much easier standard to meet than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used in a criminal prosecution.
What is “breach of fiduciary duty” in estate litigation?
Certain people are considered fiduciaries, which means they are charged with managing assets on behalf of someone else and are held to a very high standard. Examples include the personal representative of a probate estate and the trustee of a trust. The two most important fiduciary duties are the duty of loyalty and the duty of care. If a fiduciary breaches one of these duties and causes losses, whoever suffered the loss can file a civil claim for compensation.
What is “undue influence”?
Undue influence, if proven, is a ground for invalidating a will. It applies when the testator of a will is of weakened intellect and is improperly persuaded to leave cash or assets to someone. If your mother’s will leaves all of her estate to a family friend, for example, this might raise questions of undue influence.
Contact a Pittsburgh Estate Litigation Lawyer at KDS Legal Today
If you are involved in an estate dispute, or if you anticipate becoming involved in one, you need to act quickly, because you can greatly damage your case with a late or ill-considered response. The problem is that you might not be able to forecast all of the potential consequences of responding to a claim in a certain way or of filing your own claim in a certain way.
Contact a Pittsburgh estate litigation attorney at KDS Legal by calling our Pittsburgh office, emailing us at email@example.com, or filling out our online contact form for a free initial consultation. Our clients hail from Strip District, Lawrenceville, Shadyside, and elsewhere throughout Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania.