Understanding Probate Litigation

Tue Mar 31, 2020 | Wills |

The probate process can be difficult enough on its own, but it can become entirely overwhelming when it deteriorates into litigation. The emotions of the parties can make a probate dispute especially acrimonious and the parties sometimes forfeit their rights rather than get the dispute resolved. If you’re involved in a probate dispute, speaking with a Boca Raton probate litigation attorney can help you understand your options. 

What is Probate?

Probate is a court-supervised legal process that governs the distribution of someone’s estate. If they died with a will, the court will appoint a personal representative to carry out the decedent’s wishes according to their will. If they died without a will, the personal representative will distribute the property of the estate according to Florida law. While the entire process is supervised by a court, there are several opportunities for disputes to arise. 

The Parties Involved in a Probate Litigation Case

Probate litigation can involve anyone who has a potential interest in the decedent’s estate. For example: 

  • The decedent’s spouse
  • Friends or family members who believe they were wrongfully disinherited
  • The personal representative of the will charged with handling the distribution of the estate
  • Any beneficiary who disputes the claims of other beneficiaries

To further complicate matters, probate litigation will often involve all of the parties to the will. This is because there is only a limited pool of assets, and any change in the distribution could potentially affect the claims of other beneficiaries. If you’ve been pulled into litigation due to a dispute between other beneficiaries, a Boca Raton probate litigation attorney can help you understand what is at stake. 

What Gives Rise to Probate Disputes?

Deciding how to dispose of your assets is a necessarily complex matter that involves business and tax considerations, as well as familial and personal relationships. When developing your estate plan, understanding and identifying the sources of potential conflict can help you craft the best possible plan. Here are some of the situations that commonly give rise to estate disputes: 

  • Problems with the estate documents. A common cause of estate litigation is overly complicated estate plans that give rise to confusion and conflicting interpretations. Similarly, estate plans that involve several different documents drafted over several years and scattered across different states can also give rise to disputes. Disputes can also arise when the decadent drafted their own estate documents without the help of an attorney and the documents do not meet certain legal requirements.
  • Multiple marriages. Multiple marriages often lead to will disputes for a variety of reasons. Disputes may be caused by problems with the estate documents due to multiple revisions, or the marriages may create conflict between different heirs. For example, the decedent’s first spouse and their children may resent the second spouse and their children. 
  • Family division. Long-simmering family conflicts can often rear their heads when it comes to distributing the assets of the estate. Sibling rivalries or estranged family members may take issue with the estate even though these conflicts have been dormant for years.
  • Excluded family members. Disinheriting a family member from a will often leads to estate litigation. Typically, the family member will argue that the decedent was excluded due to undue influence from some other beneficiary that received what should have been their share of the state. 
  • Treating children differently. Another source of conflict arises whenever an estate gives preference to one child over another. For example, a younger daughter who receives a greater inheritance than her older brother is likely to spark a dispute. Similarly, an estate plan that gives preference to step-children over the decedent’s natural children will also be controversial. 

Working with an experienced Boca Raton probate litigation attorney can help you achieve your objectives while avoiding potential problems. 

The Types of Probate Litigation You May Encounter

Probate litigation can arise in a variety of contexts and with different degrees of complexity. Our team can help you with almost any kind of dispute, including the following: 

  • Will contests. One of the most common types of estate litigation is challenging the validity of the will itself. These challenges can involve the substance of the will, or assert that the will does not comply with Florida law and therefore is of no legal effect. 
  • Disputes over the appointment of the personal representative. If there is no will, disputes can arise over who should be in charge of distributing the assets of the estate. 
  • Guardianship litigation. Guardianships are created to take care of someone who cannot take care of themselves. Unfortunately, cases do arise where the guardian fails to meet their obligations under the guardianship documents. These cases can run the gamut from simple neglect to outright fraud or wrongdoing. In that situation, you may need someone to pursue litigation that either replaces the guardian or requires the guardian to perform their duties. 
  • Fiduciary litigation. Probate litigation doesn’t always involve disputes raised by the beneficiaries. Issues can also arise with the way the administrators or executors are handling the estate. Anyone who holds property for the benefit of another has a fiduciary obligation to act in the best interests of the beneficiaries. When they fail to do so, you may need to pursue a claim based on the breach of their fiduciary duty. 

What to Do if You Are Facing Probate Litigation

As difficult as it may be, you should first try to look at the situation as objectively as possible. Probate cases have a tendency to be driven by negative emotions at the expense of everyone who may benefit from the estate. Carefully consider whether pursuing your dispute could be worth damaging your relationship with other members of your family and your friends. 

The next step is to speak with a Boca Raton probate litigation attorney. They can evaluate the dispute and whether you have a claim. They can also help you understand your options. In addition, an experienced attorney may be able to negotiate an acceptable resolution without the need for resolution. 

Contact a Boca Raton Probate Litigation Attorney at Ellis Law Group

We know how draining a probate dispute can be, which is why we work with our clients to resolve their claims as quickly as possible. Let us help you find the best way forward –  call us at 561-336-6358 or contact us online to schedule an appointment with our Boca Raton estate probate attorney today to discuss your case and how we can help.