We all have a general idea of who we would like to have our possessions if we pass. Those who engage in estate planning hope that their assets will be passed on in accordance with their wishes. To do so, these individuals utilize a number of legal tools, including trusts, wills and powers of attorneys. However, even the most iron-clad estate plan can falter when an estate administrator and others involved in the estate distribution process fail to abide by the laws and rules in place to protect estates.

One need only look at an ongoing case that highlights this issue. There, the value of the estate of a small-town doctor who was responsible for opening a number of eye surgery centers has come into question. The doctor, who passed away in a car wreck in 1989, left his estate to his wife. A team of accountants, lawyers, bankers and insurance agents worked together to help the surviving spouse handle the estate. The couple’s children were set to inherit the estate after the widow’s death, but even prior to her death in 2007, questions were being raised as to how the estate was being handled and its true value.

In 2002, the husband of one of the children began digging into financial records, and according to him, the widow was being taken advantage of by many of the individuals with whom she worked. This caused strife in the family, particularly because one of the siblings served as a co-trustee for the estate. The siblings accused their brother in-law of improperly inserting himself into family matters, while the brother in-law and his wife contend that there may be tens of millions of dollars in the estate that are unaccounted for. The matter has been in court for 11 years with no resolution as of yet, with scores of forensic accountants and fraud experts looking into the matter.

The family in this story initially thought that the estate could quickly and easily be dealt with, but they were obviously wrong. The estate is much more complex that it appeared at first glance, and impropriety may have exacerbated the situation. However, when there are significant assets, as well as a deceased loved one’s wishes, at stake, once needs to proceed with aggressive legal competence. This is where an experienced estate planning attorney may prove beneficial.