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What Are Some Common Causes of Probate Litigation?

Simply put, probate is the legal process of settling and distributing someone's estate following their death. This process is known to be lengthy and can get even more complicated when disputes arise and litigation is required.

When such disagreements come up on how to divide a decedent's estate, it can not only become legally difficult but emotionally stressful for all involved parties. Will contests, trust disputes, fraud allegations, beneficiary conflicts, as well as other factors can cause such disputes.

There are instances where probate ligation can turn into a seriously long and expensive legal battle that can potentially sour family ties while using up financial resources that were meant to be shared.

However, probate litigation may prove to be a crucial step to ensure that the decedent's estate is transferred to those who it was intended for, as well as a path to reclaim property that may have been misappropriated. While avoiding probate litigation is preferred by most, it can be a necessary process if involved parties are unable to reach a fair agreement.

Below we will discuss common causes of probate litigation, the ways to settle such disagreements, and how a probate lawyer can be a major help to your case.

Whether you are concerned your estate will go into probate litigation following your death, or you are looking for help on a current probate dispute, Miami Family Law Group is at your aid. Our law team is both familiar and savvy with Florida probate law and can help you address any probate questions you may have.

Make sure your assets are protected by working with a reliable estate planning and probate litigation lawyer.

Contact Miami Family Law Group today at 305-520-7874 to discuss the best options for you and your loved ones.

Validity of the Will

Probate litigation may become necessary to settle a disagreement related to a will's legitimacy. Typically, a will outlines the exact wishes of an individual regarding their estate and how those assets will be distributed in the event of their death. In probate ligation, beneficiaries, heirs, or other interested parties may dispute the validity of the will and its terms.

These disputes can be based on claims of fraud, undue influence, or the lack of testamentary capacity, which means the legal and mental capacity of the individual at the time the will was written and signed. It is critical to make sure a will is properly prepared and signed in compliance with Florida law to prevent such disputes in the first place.

Disputes Over Estate Assets

In Florida, disagreements over estate assets are another frequent motivation for probate litigation. This type of disagreement might occur when a will or trust clause is unclear, or when the personal representative directly disregards the law. These types of disputes can arise when determining who is the rightful owner of an asset, particularly if another party, such as a spouse, child, or business partner, is making claims against the rights to the assets. Determining who is the rightful owner of the assets may require heading to probate court.

Disputing estate assets can be a lengthy process and has the potential to cause serious riffs among family and friends. It is crucial to make sure that the estate plan is properly established and that everyone involved is aware of the conditions of the will or trust to prevent such disagreements from arising.

Creditor Claims

Creditor claims are another common cause of probate litigation. Before any leftover assets can be handed to heirs or beneficiaries following a person's death, all unpaid debts and taxes must be settled. In general, creditors have 90 days from the date they receive notification of the probate process to submit claims against the estate. A creditor can lose the ability to collect the debt if they miss this deadline.

However, there could still be disagreements on the amount owed, even if a creditor submits a claim within the allotted time. For instance, if the deceased has significant debts, it may not be clear which portions should be paid off first and how much should go to each creditor. The legitimacy of a creditor claim may be disputed by beneficiaries who argue that the debt was invalid or was already settled.

Undue Influence

Allegations of undue influence can be means for a Florida probate litigation. Undue influence is typically the result of someone forcing the estate owner to alter their will or other estate planning documents for their own gain. This can happen when a family member or caregiver takes advantage of a senior or another vulnerable person, or if someone threatens or manipulates the estate owner into giving them a larger piece of the estate.

The party contesting the will has to demonstrate that the deceased individual was susceptible to undue influence, that the claimed influencer had the opportunity to exert such influence, and that it resulted in a significant change to the will, estate plan, and asset distribution. This burden of proof may be challenging to meet given that it's necessary to demonstrate the existence of undue influence and how it affected the way the estate was distributed, which can both be circumstantial evidence.

Breach of Fiduciary Duty Allegations

Litigation involving a breach of fiduciary duty often starts with accusations that someone, usually a professional involved in the case, has violated their duty owed to others. The personal representative, who is in charge of overseeing the estate and distributing assets to beneficiaries, is typically the person accused of a breach of fiduciary duty.

If the personal representative's actions are not in line with the beneficiaries' best interests or the wishes stated in the will, it can give rise to such accusations. As well as when the personal representative manages the estate property poorly, fails to give an accurate accounting of assets, or manages the assets in a way that gives them personal gains. A beneficiary may be able to file a lawsuit against the personal representative and hold them responsible for their actions if there is sufficient evidence to support their claim.

A Legal Heir Excluded from the Will

When a legitimate heir is overlooked in the will, it can lead to conflict. This can happen for several reasons, perhaps the deceased person did not update their will to reflect a new marriage or child, or they were potentially persuaded to amend it by another party. However, if a legal heir is left out of the will, it might not only be unfair but they could have grounds to challenge the will's validity.

To contest a will in Florida, a legal heir must submit a petition to the court within three months from the time the will was admitted to probate. To prove that the deceased person lacked the mental ability to make a valid will, or that they were influenced by another person to make changes to their will, supporting evidence must be demonstrated to the court. The court will then decide whether the will is genuine and may mandate a new distribution of the decedent's assets in the case it is not.

Improper Will Witnessing

In Florida, a will must be witnessed by two individuals who are not beneficiaries, involved in the will, or related to the decedent. The will may be challenged if the witnesses are not impartial or are found to be invalid witnesses according to Florida law.

If someone wants to dispute a will on the grounds that it was improperly witnessed, they must demonstrate how the witnesses were unqualified. This can involve proving a relationship between the witness and the will writer, or showing that the witnesses stood to benefit from the will in some way. If it is found that the will was improperly witnessed, it can be ruled void and a new distribution of assets can be mandated by the court.

How to Avoid Probate Litigation?

If you and your family members are looking to avoid probate litigation, there are some reliable strategies for protecting your assets.

Make a Valid Will - A well-crafted will can not only speed up the probate process but can help prevent disagreements and family conflicts from arising. When you create your will, it's crucial that there is no doubt about your mental capacity and you sign in front of eligible witnesses who can testify that you were of sound mind. Working with an attorney experienced in will writing can ensure that your will expresses your intentions clearly and is legally valid.

Create a Trust - Making a trust can be an effective way of avoiding future probate disputes. With a trust, you can transfer ownership of your assets to your beneficiaries without going through a probate process, thus protecting those assets from probate litigation from the start.

Name Beneficiaries - It's essential to clearly define who will be the beneficiaries in your will, along with laying out exactly who will be receiving which assets. Having established who will receive what assets can prevent disagreements among beneficiaries.

Keep Detailed Records - Maintaining thorough records of your assets, debts, or any other relevant financial information can not only help the probate process go smoother and faster, but can minimize the possibilities of creditor claims and other unforeseen conflicts.

Consult a Professional - A knowledgeable probate attorney can help you develop a plan that reduces the possibility of probate litigation, as well as provide you with advice on how to identify potential problems with your estates probate and how to avoid them.

By taking such approaches, you can lessen the possibility of probate litigation for your estate. We encourage everyone worried about probate litigation to consult with experienced attorneys on what to do to protect your estate and how to ensure your will will be carried out the way you've planned.

What Can a Probate Litigation Attorney Do for You?

An experienced probate attorney can be a wealth of information. Here are some of the specific ways an attorney can help you:

Legal Advice - A lawyer can guide you through the legal maze of probate while providing you with advice every step of the way. They can explain how to fulfill your legal obligations as a personal representative, what taxes are due and when, and how to navigate disputes if they arise.

Assist With Paperwork - One of the downsides to probate is the paperwork it entails. Along with paperwork come deadlines that, if missed, can add up time and court costs. A probate attorney can help you prepare and file all necessary documents while guaranteeing you meet the legal requirements and deadlines.

Spotting Potential Issues - Like any legal dispute, unforeseen issues can arise, especially to the untrained eye. Having a probate lawyer on your side can help you spot issues before they become bigger problems. Disagreements amongst beneficiaries or doubts about the legality of a will can be seen coming from an experienced attorney. Your lawyer can help you avoid such issues through estate planning instruments that address common problems.

Representation in Court - If your case requires probate litigation, an attorney can represent you and litigate on your behalf. A probate lawyer can advocate for you and help you build your case, all while safeguarding your interests and maintaining that your and your family's wishes are prioritized.

Ultimately, a probate lawyer can be a valuable guide throughout the probate process, making sure that the estate your loved ones worked hard to build is divided according to their wishes and to the people it was intended for. Along with being a legal guide, your attorney can offer support and direction that will surely ease your stress while minimizing the risk of disputes and estate litigation.

Speak With a Probate Litigation Attorney Today

By working with a probate litigation attorney with a solid track record, you will have access to the best legal counsel and personalized advice, giving you the peace of mind that your estate will be managed right.

If you need assistance or advice on anything probate related, Miami Family Law Group is available to help. You can count on us for support and legal aid during your probate matters.

Our Florida-based attorneys have a wide array of legal skills and are knowledgeable in probate law. We keep our client's rights and interests a priority, focusing on averting any costly errors or disputes that can complicate a case.

Ensure your assets are protected. Speak with a Miami Family Law Group probate litigation lawyer today. Call 305-520-7874.

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