Will Contest Law Firm Philadelphia, PA
A Will Contest is sometimes necessary. The contest can be about a will’s validity or, in this case, about how to interpret a will’s terms.
Few legal issues are more emotionally charged than contentious estate-related claims. When someone clearly expresses their wishes, the hope is that those affected by those wishes will respect them. However, situations arise wherein the will creator’s intent is unclear. Perhaps also the legality of the will itself.
An Example of a Will Contest Over a Will’s Terms.
Take, for example, the case of brothers Gary W. Thomson and James W. Thomson-Caliendo. Their mother, Eleanor, divided her estate between her five children. Presumably, because of Gary’s troubled past, his mother placed his share in a trust. Despite Gary and James being estranged for years, Eleanor named James as trustee. Things started fine, but then Gary became displeased. James didn’t distribute any significant funds to cover Gary’s living expenses. As a result, Gary asked the court to dissolve the trust. If the trust would not be dissolved, Gary asked that James be removed as the trustee.
The lower court chose neither to dissolve the trust nor to remove James as the trustee. However, the court ordered James to distribute $5,000 monthly to Gary. Provided that Gary passed quarterly drug testing. The court made this determination, in part, because James was found to have abused his discretion. The court found he errored in how he chose to administer the trust.
James filed an appeal. He believed the lower court had made mistakes. James felt the will contest over the will’s terms had been decided incorrectly.
- He believed the court didn’t emphasize the Will’s terms. He believed the court errored by ignoring a key term. The requirement that James should be satisfied of Gary’s “sobriety, employment, and financial situation before being eligible for a trust distribution”?
- James also believed the court errored in finding he abused his discretion. This error ultimately leading to the scenario in which James is effectively no longer determining the trust distribution amounts.
The Appeal’s Court Decides.
The appeals court agreed with James that the lower court had improperly inhibited James’s ability to ensure Gary’s compliance with the trust’s requirements. Eleanor granted James “sole and absolute discretion” in this regard. The appeal court ruled the lower court compromised James when it ordered that monthly distributions of $5,000, provided that Gary remained substance-free. This order also didn’t allow for any change in circumstance that might make a $5,000 monthly distribution excessive or insufficient to meet Gary’s needs. The appeals court chose to vacate this part of the order accordingly.
The court agreed with Gary that “James showed a persistent unwillingness and inability to administer the trust in” Gary’s interests. However, as James’s administration of the trust didn’t meet the legal standard to overturn his status as a trustee, James remains the trustee.
This outcome illustrates how emotionally challenging, practically consequential, and contentious will contest, trust management, and estate planning disputes can be. At the end of the day, Gary’s share of the estate continues to be maintained by his brother. Even though two courts have found that James has proven to be unwilling to administer Gary’s estate share in his best interests. It is unclear whether Eleanor would approve of how this situation has unfolded. As a result, this situation serves as a powerful reminder that estate plans need to be constructed in ways that anticipate such challenges.
Avoiding a will contest is best. Having an experienced estate planning attorney assist in creating an estate plan can help avoid such issues. But, if you can’t avoid a will contest, having an experienced will contest lawyer is essential.
For more information about contesting a will, please contact a Will Contest Law Firm Philadelphia, PA residents recommend. Call us today at Klenk Law.