Disputes over a deceased person’s will or estate are something many people only hear about in a sensationalized way via a headline or Hollywood. However, probate litigation is a very real legal proceeding that can happen to anyone’s estate. As you consider how to set up your estate planning documents and communicate your wishes, understanding probate litigation in Florida is just one way we are there for our clients.
What is Probate Litigation?
For most persons, a probate court will utilize probate process law to identify a deceased person’s assets, pay any outstanding debts, and distribute the estate to the beneficiaries as designated. However, occasionally, an entity may challenge the existing will, estate documents, how assets are distributed, or succession rules. This type of legal process is categorized as probate litigation.
Types of Estate Disputes
Losing a loved one is hard enough without the challenges that can come with probate and especially probate litigation. However, if there is a lack of trust between family members, communication issues, or questions about documentation, a dispute is more likely on one of the following grounds:
- Undue influence or manipulation that pressured the decedent to draft or revise their will for someone’s personal benefit
- Fraud by which someone misled the decedent to sign an unfair will
- Signing of a will by the decedent when they were not of sound mental capacity
- Disagreement over the validity or the court’s interpretation of a will
- Legal right to inheritance who was left off of a will (i.e. spouse electing for their elective share)
- Disputing creditors’ claims to estate assets
How Are Disputes Over an Estate Resolved?
In the event that an estate dispute has taken place and probate litigation is in process, it is typically addressed and eventually resolved through some or all of the following:
- Negotiations: Private, attorney-led discussions designed to represent each client’s best interest with the goal of attaining an amicable solution for both parties.
- Mediation: If negotiations are ineffective, a structured mediation process with a neutral third party may help the family reach a mutually agreed upon resolution.
- Settlement: This is the agreed-upon resolution by both parties from which they agree to move forward.
- Hearing or Trial: If the parties cannot agree after negotiations, the probate litigation may move forward to a hearing or trial. This time and cost-intensive process that involves the presentation of documents, evidence, and possibly even witnesses depending on the intensity.
- Arbitration: Similar to mediation in that a neutral third party is involved, however, both parties preemptively agree to accept the arbitrator’s decision.
Many Probate Disputes Can Be Avoided
It is clear that probate litigation can be a draining process for your emotions, your time, and your pocketbook. Thankfully, many probate disputes can be avoided through clear communication with your family and expert legal advice to help you draw up sound legal documents that will clearly state your wishes for your estate and beneficiaries. To discuss your will, trust, or estate documentation needs, contact our experienced attorneys in Florida at The Law Office of Amy B. Van Fossen, P.A