Everyone who creates an estate plan hopes that the settling of their estate will proceed smoothly and quickly. Unfortunately, though, litigation sometimes arises after you die. Whether it involves a challenge to your estate plan, or defending or prosecuting your rights in an unrelated matter, your estate may become a party to a civil suit. While you cannot prevent these complications from happening, you can take steps to strengthen your estate plan, beginning with the selection of your personal representative.
Personal representatives have a wide variety of duties. One such duty is the responsibility to protect the assets within the estate and to retrieve potential outstanding assets. This process may require the personal representative to defend the estate against challenges to the deceased’s will or trust or defend the estate in a civil lawsuit. The personal representative may also have to carry forward a civil lawsuit brought by the deceased, or initiate a new suit, if the deceased has a claim against another person or entity.
Typically, when one thinks about a litigation matter involving an estate, one thinks of cases like Beard v. Estate of Wenkman, where rival siblings battled over the validity of their late father’s will. Other times, though, estate litigation may involve pursuing a civil claim on behalf of the deceased. Robert Viola, for example, sued various entities for exposing him to asbestos dust, which led to his contraction of malignant mesothelioma, but he died only a few months after filing his suit. Due to his death, his personal representative took over the task of carrying the civil action forward on behalf of Viola’s estate.