Maryland Estate Litigation

Tag: Estate Attorney

Investing in Family

by barrettrkingpc

Throughout the years, we are constantly taught, admonished, reminded that we must invest. We must invest in our education by focusing on our studies or by taking student loans to complete our degree so that we can increase our earning potential and job satisfaction. We are taught that we must invest in our retirement by saving a portion of our earnings in an IRA or 401(k). We eventually, for those of us who have them, invest in our children by saving for their own education and by making sure to catch their baseball or field hockey games even if it means going back to the job or office and pulling a late night as soon as the game ends.

Looking back, as teenagers we start our flight from the nest and comforting wing of our parents or guardians with our desire to establish independence. An important part of our passage into adulthood is separating ourselves from those who invested in us so that we can invest in ourselves. And, before we know it, our parents have aged into retirement. To your eyes, are they enjoying themselves? Do they travel? Do they engage in hobbies? Are they experiencing what you grew up hearing them say they would hope to experience in retirement? Do they get to spend time with you or with the grandchildren? Are they getting to relish in the satisfaction of seeing you thrive on their investment and sacrifice in you?

Eventually, the caregiver becomes the cared for. It is worth talking to your parent or guardian about long term care insurance or whether they saved enough for retirement to self-insure for anticipated lifetime medical and long term care expenses. It can affect your ability to invest in your own children or in your own retirement if you have to take time away from work or your young family to become a caregiver or untangle a legal morass where your parents did not properly plan.

Help your parents plan for themselves. You are a major part of your parents’ life story and their future. We spend such a large part of our lives doing the things we do not want to do – chores, commuting, planning, even sleeping – that we should truly enjoy the small moments. And one way to ensure you and those who invested in you will get to do just that is to talk about estate planning and investing for the years to come.

Barrett R. King, Esq.
King|Hall LLC
410-696-2405
5300 Dorsey Hall Drive
Suite 107
Ellicott City, Maryland 21042
barrett@kh.legal
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A Primer on Guardianships – Part Three – Guardianship of the Property

by David A. (Andy) Hall

From one broad perspective, a person can be understood to have control over two sets of decisions in their lives: decisions affecting their person and decisions affecting their property. These are commonly reduced to healthcare and personal decisions (e.g., what medical treatment I receive or where I live), or financial decisions (e.g., what bank holds my money).  For a person who lacks capacity to make these decisions, there is a need to have the proper incapacity planning in place.

For financial decisions to be made by another person, there needs to be a financial power of attorney (“POA”) in place.  These POAs can come in many varieties.  Most financial institutions will have their own forms.  The Maryland Legislature and the Attorney General for the State of Maryland have created a specific form, which must be accepted by banks and financial institutions in the State of Maryland – with some limited exceptions.  Many attorneys will also have their clients sign a separate durable power of attorney which is tailored to their clients’ wishes.  When a person becomes incapacitated and does not have the planning in place, then their loved ones may be left with little alternative to filing for guardianship of the property.

An incapacitated person may not need a guardian of the person if there is an advance medical directive in place, or their loved one is experiencing little issue serving as a health care surrogate.  The management of their property may pose a more difficult challenge.  Banks are reticent to deal with someone who is not named in a POA.  Legal advisors will not release documents.  Simply getting information about assets is difficult without a POA.

The Petition for Appointment of a Guardian of the Property must be filed where the “alleged disabled person resides, even if the person is temporarily absent.” Md. Rule 10-301(c); Estates & Trusts § 13-202.  (Note that temporarily absent is not defined in the statute, but an often seen context is where a person is incapacitated by an injury and is receiving medical treatment in a different county.)  The rule is somewhat different for someone who is not a resident of the State of Maryland.  The practitioner should look at the situs (location) of any property or file where a guardianship of the person would be properly filed.

The Petition for Appointment of a Guardian of the Property must also include two certificates signed by medical doctors (or one can be signed be a licensed psychologist or licensed clinical social worker) attesting to the alleged disabled person’s need for a guardianship.  The rules are different for somone who is a beneficiary of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (the “VA”).  The VA can supply a certificate in lieu of the two certificates previously noted though for practical purposes it may be easier to get the two physicians’ certificates.

The Petitioner (the one filing for guardianship) has to meet the burden of proving that the alleged disabled person (“ADP”):

  • Is unable to manage his property and affairs effectively because of physical or mental disability, disease, habitual drunkenness, addiction to drugs, imprisonment, compulsory hospitalization, confinement, detention by a foreign power, or disappearance; and
  • Has or may be entitled to property or benefits which require proper management.

Estates & Trusts § 13-201(c).  After a bench trial and a finding of the need for a guardian of the property by a preponderance of the evidence (which means that it is substantially more likely than not that it is true, and is a less rigorous standard than clear and convincing evidence standard necessary for guardian of the person), the judge will appoint a guardian of the property.  There is no right to a jury trial for a guardianship of the property.

Filing for guardianship may be a difficult process with unique challenges for those who do not handle these on a regular basis.  If you believe that you need to file for guardianship, then call for a free consultation.

David A. (Andy) Hall, Esq.
King|Hall LLC
410-696-2045
5300 Dorsey Hall Drive
Suite 107
Ellicott City, Maryland 21042
andy@kh.legal

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Trying to Prevent Estate Litigation through In Terrorem Clauses is Often an Empty Gesture

by David A. (Andy) Hall

Sometimes an estate client will anticipate that there will be a challenge to her estate after she dies –  and frankly if there is a house, then in this area its generally worth at least a couple hundred thousand dollars, thus, it’s worth fighting over.  Perhaps her children do not get along. Or there is a family business in which one relative has spent many years alongside to build and grow, and the client wishes to leave that relative a larger share of the business.  In an effort to prevent challenges to her will, a client may ask her estate planning attorney to utilize an in terrorem clause.  These can also be known as “no-contest” clauses.  An in terrorem clause essentially states that when someone objects or attacks the will (through the appropriate legal process), then the challenger will no longer receive a legacy or residual distribution that they otherwise would have received through the will.

Under Maryland law, an in terrorem clause in a will is void where there exists probable cause for instituting law suit.  Md. Code, Est. & Trusts Art. § 4-413.  Someone considering whether or not to challenge a will should consult with an experienced estates and trusts attorney to determine whether there exists probable cause to challenge a will.

An in terrorem clause is ineffective from preventing a challenge by someone who is disinherited as there is no stick (or carrot) to make the challenger think twice prior to challenging.  If they have nothing to lose, then there is nothing to prevent them from hiring an estate litigation attorney to challenge the will.

A no-contest or in terrorem clause may still be a good idea to include in your estate planning documents depending on your particular family dynamics.  While no clause can prevent all estate litigation, these clauses may be useful in preventing meritless litigation, i.e., a baseless challenge designed to extract a monetary settlement.  In addition, it may be a useful tool for your personal representative to use when negotiating a settlement with a will challenger as it can make estate litigation an all-or-nothing proposition.

No one wants to think about their family fighting over their estate.  Having a thorough and frank conversation with your estate planning attorney can help identify red flags and allow the planning attorney to attempt to draft around those challenges.  One such solution is appointing a third party as personal representative because the disinterested person can help prevent the estate administration from becoming a battle ground for long simmering family disputes.  Avoiding estate and trust litigation before it starts can save your family many tens of thousands of dollars in costs.

David A. (Andy) Hall, Esq.
King|Hall LLC
410-696-2045
5300 Dorsey Hall Drive
Suite 107
Ellicott City, Maryland 21042
andy@kh.legal

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Removing the Personal Representative of an Estate

by David A. (Andy) Hall

Here is the scenario: You are a legatee under a will, which means that you are entitled to “receive any property disposed of by will, including property disposed of in a residuary clause and assets passing by the exercise by the decedent of a testamentary power of appointment”.  See Maryland Code, Estates and Trusts Art., § 1-101(l)-(m).  The personal representative (the “PR”) (or what’s known as an executor in other states) is behaving in a way that you do not agree with.  Your question is whether or not you can have that PR removed.

The Maryland Code in Estates and Trusts Article, §6-306 states that there are six causes for the removal of a PR:

  1. Misrepresenting facts leading to her appointment
  2. Willfully disregarding the order of the court
  3. Incapable or unable to discharge her duties
  4. Mismanagement of property
  5. Failing to maintain an effective designation of a local agent (this is when the PR is not a resident of the State of Maryland)
  6. Failing to perform a material duty of the office

Whether or not a PR’s conduct rises to the level of a court removing that person requires an intensive factual analysis to be performed by your estate litigation lawyer.  Some examples of conduct that could lead to the removal of the PR include: attempting to admit the wrong (or a prior) will to probate, which could arise in a situation where one sibling is in one will and then subsequently left out of the estate in a subsequent will.  They would have a strong desire to gloss over the existence of the subsequent will.

The willful disregard of an order of the court is easier than some people may assume.  If the PR has failed to file an accounting within the proper time, then the court will likely issue a show cause order requiring the PR to either file the accounting or to demonstrate why the accounting has not been filed.  Perhaps the PR did not enlist the help of an estate administration attorney, then they could easily misunderstand these deadlines and what they mean.  Thus, innocently missing a deadline could lead to disregarding an order of the court and be grounds for removal.

If you believe that the PR of the estate is mishandling her duties, then you should contact an estate litigation attorney to have them evaluate the facts of your case.  The last thing that you want is to have bad acting PR wasting away assets that your family member worked hard to accumulate, spent time and money to effectively plan for the disposition of those assets after their passing, and then not be distributed in accordance with their estate plan.

David A. (Andy) Hall, Esq.
King|Hall LLC
410-696-2045
5300 Dorsey Hall Drive
Suite 107
Ellicott City, Maryland 21042
andy@kh.legal

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Appointing co-personal representatives is a recipe for trouble

by David A. (Andy) Hall

Ask your estate planning attorney whether you it is advisable to appoint co-personal representatives.  Co-personal representatives are two (or more) people named as personal representative simultaneously.   Successor personal representatives are named as backups in case your first choice is unable to serve whether by reason of death, incapacity or unwillingness to serve. You should always name at least one successor personal representative, but two is preferable.

In a co-personal representative situation, Maryland law by default requires the concurrence of all personal representatives in order to act on behalf of the estate.  This can lead to issues with the practical aspects of managing the estate, or it can create a friction point in an already tense family situation.

You should consider the motivations for wanting co-personal representatives. If you think that one person might not be able to handle the job alone, you are probably better off appointing someone else altogether. In general, one person will end up doing the majority of the work, but will be hampered by seeking the concurrence/assent of the other personal representative.

If there is a family issue, you can always appoint someone outside of the family. When there is a family dynamic where there is distrust, estrangement, or other issues, then the appointment of co-personal representatives may only serve to exacerbate the situation.

In short, appointing co-personal representatives can lead to unnecessary delay, arguments, or even litigation. It is best to name one trusted individual to serve as personal representative, and name at least one trusted successor.  Help avoid estate and trust litigation before it ever happens by contacting your estate planning attorney.  Make sure your attorney can competently guide you through not only proper tax planning and asset protection, but also provide counsel to avoid litigation before it starts.

David A. (Andy) Hall, Esq.
King|Hall LLC
410-696-2045
5300 Dorsey Hall Drive
Suite 107
Ellicott City, Maryland 21042
andy@kh.legal

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WHY WE ASK YOUR SON OR DAUGHTER TO LEAVE THE ROOM WHEN YOU ARE SIGNING YOUR WILL

by David A. (Andy) Hall

Understanding Undue Influence

The sad reality that even with the best prepared estate plan there can be instances where a family member, or some other individual challenges your will after your death.  Often times, if you have enough resources to carefully prepare your estate plan, then you have enough resources for descendants to fight over.  When a person decides to undertake the process to challenge the validity of a will, they are called a Caveator and the process by which they challenge the will is called a Caveat.  These proceedings generally start with the Orphan’s Court for the county where the Decedent (the person who died) was domiciled (where they lived).  There are a variety of bases to caveat a will, but one that comes up again and again is undue influence.

 The Maryland Court of Appeals identified seven factors to undue influence in Moore v. Smith, 321 Md. 347, 353 (1990):

  1. The benefactor and beneficiary are involved in a relationship of confidence and trust;
  2. The will contains a substantial benefit to the beneficiary;
  3. The beneficiary caused or assisted in the effecting the execution of the will;
  4. There was an opportunity to exert influence;
  5. The will contains an unnatural disposition;
  6. The bequests constitute a change from a former will; and
  7. The testator was highly susceptible to undue influence.

Factor three, which is the beneficiary caused or assisted in effecting the execution of the will, is the reason that we ask your friend, relative, or caregiver to leave the room when you are signing your Last Will and Testament.  We know from experience that if there is a challenge to your will, then Caveator will ask who was present at the signing of the will.  They will point to the presence of so and so as to why the will should not be admitted to probate.  Why have your family suffer through expensive legal proceedings and potentially derail your carefully chosen estate plans when we can take proactive steps during your planning to prevent these problems many years before they arise?

David A. (Andy) Hall, Esq.
King|Hall LLC
410-696-2045
5300 Dorsey Hall Drive
Suite 107
Ellicott City, Maryland 21042
andy@kh.legal

457526bfb82f4540ba08c7cce8e707dd