When a person in Maryland or the District of Columbia dies, there is always the possibility that some form of Estate Litigation will begin. This is true whether the decedent died without a Last Will and Testament or if the person had a Will or executed more complex Estate Planning instruments.
If you think you have been denied your inheritance, then you must consider the possibility of engaging in Estate Litigation. Likewise, suppose other possible heirs and legatees of the decedent are challenging any aspect of the Will or Estate Planning instruments. In that case, you will have to defend your inheritance through the process of Estate Litigation.
The first step, of course, is to seek a legal consultation with a top-tier Maryland/D.C. Estate Litigator at The Law Offices of Thomas Stahl. A consultation is needed to evaluate and explore legal options and chart the best path to success. In the remainder of this article, we briefly discuss the stages and steps in Maryland/D.C. Estate Litigation.
Once the decision has been made to start — or defend — Estate Litigation, get ready to begin the process of filing proper court documents. Depending on the claims being filed, those challenging a Will or Estate Planning instruments will file the initial court document, which is often called a “Petition” or a “Complaint.” Typically, these will be filed in the Maryland or D.C. probate courts, but in some cases, the initial pleadings are filed in the standard civil courts.
The Complaint/Petition generally sets out the legal claims and lists some evidence that supports the demand/request being made. For example, if the legal claim is that the decedent’s Will is invalid, the Petition will state that legal claim and give brief information about the Will and why it should be deemed invalid under the law. As another example, if the legal claim is by a beneficiary of a trust against the Trustee, the Petition/Complaint will provide information on the Trust, the Trustee, and the beneficiaries and offer some explanatory facts showing why the beneficiary should obtain the legal relief requested.
After these initial court filings are served on the “target” parties — usually served by hand delivery — the other parties are given time to file a written response to the Petition/Complaint. Other documents may also need to be filed depending on the type of case and local court rules.
It should be noted that, during all stages of Maryland/D.C. Estate Litigation, there are ongoing negotiations by the parties aimed at achieving a settlement of the legal claims. Parties are able to compromise and agree to solutions, and such settlements are accepted by the Maryland/D.C. courts.
Shortly after the initial Petition/Complaint is filed, the judge assigned to the case will hold a brief hearing with the attorneys and set a schedule for the case.
After this, the case moves into what is called the “discovery” phase. This involves the parties exchanging documents, answering written questions, and providing sworn witness testimony in depositions. Depositions are informal question-and-answer sessions that are transcribed and provided to the parties. Discovery allows all parties to develop admissible evidence, see what evidence the “other side” has, and avoids any sort of “surprise” if the Estate Litigation ends up going to trial.
The next phase is often called expert or opinion discovery. In many Estate Litigation cases, complicated issues require the testimony and opinion of experts. For example, in a trust case where the claim is related to misuse of trust assets by the Trustee, it may be necessary for an expert to provide opinions based on a forensic examination of the Trust’s financial records.
The following phase is called the “summary judgment” phase, where both sides ask the judge to rule in their favor on the whole case or parts of the case. The various requests are based on what are called “undisputed facts” and how the law is deemed to apply to such facts. Generally, an undisputed fact is one on which all the parties agree (or cannot dispute). For example, if a given Will does not have the decedent’s signature, that is an undisputed fact if everyone agrees or if there are no legal or factual methods of disputing the absence of the signature.
The final stage in Maryland/D.C. Estate Litigation is the trial. Such a trial is somewhat like it is depicted in films and books but with much less drama.
Maryland and D.C. Trust and Estate Litigation Attorneys
If you need estate litigation services, contact the Maryland and D.C. trust and estate litigation lawyers at The Law Offices of Thomas Stahl. We have the experience and expertise you need. Schedule a consultation today or call us at (410) 696-4326 or (202) 964-7280. We have offices in Columbia, MD, and Washington, DC.