Can an Estate Be Sued?

By Kay Lee

Estates, which are made of the assets of the decedent, are considered a legal entity under state law. This legal entity is designed to conclude the decedent's financial affairs and transfer his property to his beneficiaries and heirs. State law governs estate and litigation rules; therefore, it is important to seek the advice of legal counsel in order to comply with any special rules. For example, in response to the recent foreclosure epidemic, Wyoming recently passed a law governing the foreclosure process when the homeowner has died.

Estates, which are made of the assets of the decedent, are considered a legal entity under state law. This legal entity is designed to conclude the decedent's financial affairs and transfer his property to his beneficiaries and heirs. State law governs estate and litigation rules; therefore, it is important to seek the advice of legal counsel in order to comply with any special rules. For example, in response to the recent foreclosure epidemic, Wyoming recently passed a law governing the foreclosure process when the homeowner has died.

Lawsuits by Beneficiaries

Estates themselves can be sued for a variety of reasons during the administration of the estate. Beneficiaries and heirs may view the expenses and costs of administering the estate as unreasonable, which can be a cause to sue the estate or executor. Beneficiaries and heirs may also bring a case against an executor who engages in other wrongdoing, such as taking money from the estate or not following the will's instructions.

Protect your loved ones by a legally binding will. Make a Will Online Now

Lawsuits by Creditors

Creditors can also make claims against the estate for outstanding amounts owed. They must follow state law, which may require making a claim against the estate in probate court prior to filing a lawsuit. Moreover, who incurred the debt may affect how the suit is filed. States like California differentiate between debts incurred by the decedent and debts incurred by the executor administering the estate.

Continuation of a Case Against the Decedent

Sometimes an estate becomes implicated in a case because the decedent died as the matter is going through the courts. When this occurs, the estate essentially steps into the decedent's shoes, and the estate cannot be settled until the claims have been determined in the lawsuit. Additionally, someone can sue the decedent if his death created a claim for that individual. For example, if the decedent died in an accident that he caused and injured another person, that person generally could sue the estate.

Estates Can Initiate Cases

Not only can estates be sued, but estates can also initiate litigation. Estates are subject to the same litigation rules as other claimants. For example, the estate of the late Michael Jackson was able to sue the operators of a website for improperly selling merchandise with Jackson's likeness without permission from the estate.

Rules Applicable to Estate Litigation

Though many of the rules are the same with respect to suing an estate versus a person, some rules are different, given the nature of an estate. Many states have a shorter time period in which potential claimants can make a claim against an estate. Due to the complexities involved in litigation relating to an estate, it is imperative to consult with counsel.

Protect your loved ones by a legally binding will. Make a Will Online Now
What if a Beneficiary Steals From the Estate?

References

Related articles

What is the New Jersey Statute of Limitations for Claims Against a Decedent's Estate?

Under New Jersey law, creditors have only a limited number of months to make a claim against an estate. If a claim is made past the deadline, the estate is not responsible to pay the debt. For debtors who die without a will, the laws of intestacy impose a similar time limit for creditors to make a claim. Certain estate planning tools may be useful to avoid creditor claims and executors may negotiate or contest claims against the estate.

Can I File a Lawsuit Against a Living Trust if My Spouse Was Left Out?

The person making a trust -- a legal vehicle to manage property -- transfers assets into it for her use during her lifetime. In the trust document she specifies beneficiaries, who are to benefit from the assets at her death. A disgruntled family member can challenge the trust, but only in special circumstances will a spouse have standing to do so.

The Meaning of Denied Probate

State probate courts, sometimes known as surrogate’s courts, are charged with probating decedents’ wills. But before the probate process commences, courts must ensure that each will is legally enforceable. If a probate court finds a will to be defective or invalid, the will can be denied probate, in which case, the estate will be distributed in accordance with the state’s intestacy laws instead.

LegalZoom. Legal help is here. Start Here. Wills. Trusts. Attorney help.

Related articles

Suing the Executor of a Will

Beneficiaries named in a will may sue the executor based on the actions the executor took in managing the estate. State ...

Claims Against Wills

Few creditors write off debts because the person who owed them has died. Anyone from credit card companies to the ...

Can a Will Get an Estate Out of Probate?

State laws regarding probate procedure vary, and many states offer a streamlined procedure for very small estates. ...

When Is an Estate Considered Settled?

When a person dies, his property is gathered into an estate. The estate is formed for the purpose of settling his ...

Browse by category