Boca Raton Probate Litigation Attorney

A Boca Raton Probate Litigation Attorney Can Help Ease the Stress of Your Probate Disputes

Probate is the legal term for the administration of a decedent’s estate.  This process ordinarily involves admitting the decedent’s last will and testament and appointing a personal representative (also known as an executor) to oversee the administration process.  A fundamental part of a personal representative’s duties is the marshaling of probate assets for eventual distribution to the beneficiaries of the estate. Often times, disagreements arise in the course of this process, necessitating the retention of a Boca Raton probate litigation attorney.

Not everyone needs to hire a probate litigation lawyer. Most estates — especially those that have benefited from sound estate planning — can go through probate without incident. But the reality is that disputes do arise among heirs and beneficiaries of estates and trusts. In the cases where disagreements rise to the level that a court must intervene, an Ellis Law Group Boca Raton probate litigation attorney will help you protect your rights.

Ellis Law Group, P.L. is a Boca Raton probate litigation law firm offering solutions in all types of estate disputes. Contact us today to learn more about how we can assist your family in resolving probate matters.

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. 

Our Boca Raton Probation Litigation Attorney Outlines Situations That Lead to 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. 

Types of Florida Probate and Trust Litigation Matters

When people think of probate litigation, challenging a will or trust usually is the first thing that comes to mind. But trust and estates litigation can involve any contested issue that arises in the administration of trusts and estates that is argued in court. The most common types of matters that require the assistance of a Boca Raton probate litigation attorney include will and trust contests, suits alleging wrongdoing by trustees and executors/personal representatives, construction proceedings (that is, matters to determine the meaning and effect of the terms contained in an estate planning document), elective share litigation and other disputes concerning spousal rights, determining heirs and beneficiaries, and disputes surrounding accounting matters.  The term can also include litigation concerning other documents which purport to designate beneficiaries upon death, such as bank account titling documents and real property deeds.

Will and Trust Contests.

A will or trust contest is a formal objection to the validity of the document at issue, usually based on an allegation of one or more of the following:

  • The will or trust is invalid because it was not executed according to law
  • The testator/settlor (the person who executed the document) lacked mental capacity at the time the document was discussed and/or signed
  • The document is the product of undue influence 
  • The document is a forgery or is otherwise the product of fraud

These same arguments are also often made in disputes involving account beneficiary designation forms and real property deeds.

Breach of Fiduciary Duty.

The fiduciary of an estate (personal representative or executor) and trust (trustee) owes numerous duties to its beneficiaries.  These include duties of loyalty, a duty to account and inform, and a duty to prudently administer.  Likewise, beneficiaries of estates and trusts have rights and entitlements and can hold the fiduciary accountable if these rights are violated or if the fiduciary breaches its duties.  Fiduciary litigation offers beneficiaries whose rights have been violated myriad remedies when fiduciaries are guilty of misconduct.  These remedies can include the return of misappropriated assets, the removal of the fiduciary, and can also result in the fiduciary being required to account for its actions.

Will and Trust Construction.

A construction matter may end up in probate litigation when the terms of the will or trust are vague or subject to multiple interpretations.  In these proceedings court proceedings are necessary to resolve the disputed issues. 

  • Elective share. Absent a valid pre- or post-marital agreement, a surviving spouse in Florida has an absolute right to a share of the deceased spouse’s assets known as the elective share.. This type of matter might end up before a probate judge if the elective share is being withheld from a spouse or if the estate administrator contests that the amount is owed to the spouse. 
  • Determination of heirs. Sometimes, when a decedent dies intestate, the court must become involved in identifying the heirs to the estate. 
  • Accounting. A beneficiary of an estate can bring an action in probate court against a personal representative for an accounting of estate assets. 

Re-Titled and Wrongfully Transferred Assets/Depleted Estate

One of the fundamental tenets of probate is that a decedent’s will only controls the disposition and distribution of probate assets. Often times, usually late in a decedent’s lifetime, the titling of assets changes or assets are transferred in a manner which results in a reduction in value of the estate.  For instance, a bank account once held in the decedent’s name alone is retitled such that it is held by the decedent and his or her son as joint tenants with rights of survivorship.  In some cases. substantial funds from a large account are transferred, without rhyme or reason, shortly before the decedent’s death.  It is also not uncommon that a family member becomes a signatory on a decedent’s account and abuses that power for personal gain by using the decedent’s assets for personal purposes.

In many of these cases, the manner in which these assets are transferred or retitled is profoundly at odds with the terms of the decedent’s will, thereby suggesting that the decedent did not legitimately intend for these transactions to occur.

Probate courts are courts of equity, which means that the judges who preside over estate matters look past the form of a transaction or asset in order to determine the true substance or truth.  Courts have the power to order the return of these assets to the estate either through subsequent retitling or the delivery of funds. In addition, where an individual who is a beneficiary of the estate is found to have committed this type of wrongdoing, the court can find that the beneficiary’s interest in the estate has been satisfied to the extent of the unjust enrichment.

It is critical that people harmed by these acts protect themselves, and to do so within various limitations periods imposed by Florida law. A Boca Raton probate litigation attorney at the Ellis Law Group is available for clients throughout Florida to consult in matters such as these.

Contact an Experienced Boca Raton Probate Litigation Attorney Today

If you and your loved ones are struggling with a probate dispute, a Boca Raton probate litigation attorney at Ellis Law Group can offer you the experienced and compassionate legal representation you need. Contact us online or by phone at 561-910-7500.

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