Probate and Estate Litigation
The Probate Process
The probate process activates an estate plan by giving a court the ability to supervise the distribution of a deceased person’s property. The Koenig Law Firm, an Illinois business based in Rock Island, represents both the beneficiaries of this process and the fiduciaries, such as executors and administrators.
Among the services offered to clients involved in the probate process are advising surviving spouses and children, filing pleadings to admit the decedent’s will to probate, drafting and filing the documents required by Illinois law, and handling issues related to estate tax and income tax returns. Tying up these loose ends for a family and remaining a trusted adviser are critical roles for any probate and estate litigator.
Sometimes controversies arise in probate and estate litigation. When the amount at stake is small and the questions affect only the immediate family, the expense of litigation may not be a sound investment.
Reasons for Litigation
When other parties are involved or the amount of wealth transfer is substantial, litigating such questions zealously and aggressively may be more critical.
Issues may involve the validity of a will, the meaning of a will, disputes about the rightful heirs, and questions over the ownership of the property and assets mentioned in the estate plan. From time to time beneficiaries or other interested parties charge administrators or executors with wrongdoing. Creditors and other estates also may assert claims against an estate for a wide variety of reasons including personal injuries, wrongful death, and certain debts.
Trial and Appellate Experience
Among the more public and noteworthy cases Philip Koenig has litigated are the following:
- recovering $1.3 million in estate taxes from non-probate beneficiaries of an estate
- contesting a will that gave everything to one of 17 children to the exclusion of the decedent’s wife and his other children
- in the above case, recovering a residence given away under the father’s power of attorney to the daughter of the child who was to receive everything
- various decedent’s estate administration matters
As an appellate lawyer, Philip Koenig frequently has focused on legal controversies involving the complex kinds of cases many lawyers shy away from. For example, Phil argued successfully that the testimony of a lawyer who drafts a trust should not be admitted in court to interpret its meaning or to claim a mistake in the trust’s drafting. Such testimony is forbidden by the parole evidence rule. The rule aims to preserve the integrity of written agreements by keeping them from being altered through oral statements and testimony.
In another case, Phil Koenig made significant law on the topic of self dealing in a controversy involving a testamentary trust. A family had attempted to limit the funds a young widow could get from a testamentary trust to pay for health insurance, even though the purpose of the trust was to fund medical and educational needs. The trustees had lent themselves money from the trust at passbook interest rates to cover margin calls when they lost a considerable amount of funds investing in technology stocks. Phil’s advocacy helped to reverse the decision of an Illinois trial court.
Koenig also prevailed in a case before the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals arguing that the third ex-wife of a man she had divorced six months earlier had left her the proceeds of his term life insurance policy. She was the named beneficiary, but a minor daughter from the previous marriage argued the proceeds were hers based on the language of the marriage dissolution judgment. Koenig argued that ERISA law dictates that employer plan papers, and not the terms of divorce judgments, always dictate the beneficiary of plan benefits. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually adopted this position in an unrelated case.
Phil Koenig has considerable experience successfully litigating probate and estate issues of all sizes. For advice or assistance, contact Phil today so he can help you.