Generally speaking, a last will or estate plan allows someone with assets to determine how those assets end up divided once he or she dies. For many people, carefully planning this distribution process is part of their final legacy. It can have a profound impact on their loved ones, from children and grandchildren to siblings, friends and even charitable organizations.
Administration of an estate is a difficult and complex task. The person who receives this dubious honor has to do his or her best to follow the exact instructions provided or interpret them as best as possible. The division of certain assets, as well as the handling of the estate as a whole, can be a major source of discord in the weeks and months after someone passes on.
Sometimes the issue is a mistake or oversight. Other times, it's intentional. If you have reason to believe an estate isn't getting proper respect and administration, it may be time to take action.
Contesting the administration allows probate court to step in
There are many reasons why you may feel like the probate court needs to review what's happening with an estate. Whether you're worried about undue influence from one or more people in the last days of your loved one's life, resulting in drastic changes to the will, or someone who doesn't seem competent or able to fulfill fiduciary duties as administrator, deciding to contest an estate is never simple.
The most important guiding factor should be what you believe your loved one would have wanted. If there is any reason to think that the estate's management doesn't correlate to what the deceased had planned, you can help honor his or her memory and wishes by asking for probate to review what's happened so far.
Some people simply can't handle the details
There's a lot of stress involved with managing an estate. The greater the overall value of assets, the more pressure there is to handle everything properly. Maybe the administrator or executor hasn't even started the process, a common issue if he or she lives in another city or state. Perhaps the executor hasn't maintained adequate records for assets that are no longer in the estate.
In some cases, decisions by an executor or trustee can negatively impact the value of the estate. Selling items for less than they are worth, for example, could reduce the value and impact of the estate as it was initially planned.
Some people use the position for personal gain
If you have reason to believe that an executor, trustee or administrator has intentionally used his or her position for unethical personal gain, that needs to be addressed as soon as possible. Some people will steal from an estate. Anything from fine art or liquid cash assets to jewelry and heirlooms can come up "missing" or sold to someone the executor knows for a fraction of their value, all with the intent of profit.
If you believe that someone is abusing the role entrusted to him or her by the deceased, you should absolutely look into your options for contesting the individual's position and actions.