Unfortunately, disagreements regarding the administration of an estate may arise. It may be that a Court proceeding is the only remedy available to persons whose rights have been disregarded.
Wills can be invalidated by the court for various reasons. A will may be contested on the grounds that it was not properly executed under the statutory requirements (with the proper number of witnesses, etc.), or due to the incompetence of the testator (due to sickness, drug or alcohol effects, onset of mental disability, etc.) or if the testator was a victim of undue influence.
Normally a written objection is filed in the probate proceeding setting forth the grounds for contest. Any person having an interest in the probate proceedings (a family member, disinherited persons, creditors) may file a contest. The person who contests a Will on grounds of undue influence or a lack of mental capacity ordinarily has the burden of proving such claims, however, the burden may be shifted in some cases to require the person who takes under the contested will to prove that there was no undue influence.
In other situations, there may be no issue of the validity of the will, but the beneficiaries may have a proper claim against the executor or administrator of the estate for failing to properly administer the estate.
Any of the following may be the cause of litigation regarding an estate:
1. A lack of mental capacity on the part of a person making a last will and testament, a gift, or the designation of a beneficiary.
2. The imposition of undue influence upon a person making a will, a gift, or a beneficiary designation.
3. A failure to leave a surviving spouse assets which are at least equal to the spouse's statutory elective share.
4. A sale of estate assets by the executor or administrator to himself or herself, or some other form of self-dealing during the estate administration.
5. Negligence by the executor or administrator in handling the financial affairs of the estate
6. A failure by the executor or administrator to promptly conclude the administration of the estate.
7. A failure by the executor or administrator to provide adequate information to the beneficiaries and other family members.
8. A failure by a trustee to properly carry out the instructions provided in the will or trust agreement, or to properly invest and account for the assets.
In New Jersey, the Surrogate's Court handles only uncontested matters. The Surrogate's Court is allowed to probate wills, grant letters testamentary, grant letters of administration and certain other matters. The law of New Jersey specifically provides that the Surrogate's Court may not act where there is any genuine controversy or dispute.
In the event of a dispute, the matter is transferred to the Probate Part of the Superior Court, so that the issues may be decided by a judge.