While mediation and careful deliberation can bring a peaceful end to many disagreements, some claims demand a more intensive approach. When heirs and beneficiaries cannot resolve their differences, they may be forced to take their case to court.
The Role of a Florida Estate Litigation Lawyer in Probate Estate Contests
A estate litigation lawyer is an attorney who has experience creating estate plans and resolving conflicts between heirs, beneficiaries, and other interested parties. During a probate estate contest, an attorney can help parties understand their legal rights and work toward an out-of-court settlement.
Under most circumstances, a probate estate litigation attorney works with or for the estate’s personal representative. The personal representative, known as the "executor" in many states, is the individual responsible for initiating the probate estate, collecting the estate’s assets, and distributing inheritances.
An experienced Florida probate estate litigation attorney could help the personal representative:
- Verify or validate estate documents
- Interpret a will
- Resolve disputes between beneficiaries
- Adjudicate suspicious or unreasonable creditor claims
- Manage estate assets and investments
However, a Florida probate estate attorney could also advocate the interests of a beneficiary by:
- Arbitrating disagreements about the use of estate funds
- Filing a claim challenging the allotment of an inheritance
- Helping beneficiaries secure assets to which they are legally entitled
Since Florida’s probate process is a deadline-driven and time-sensitive process, heirs, beneficiaries and personal representatives may need the assistance of an experienced probate estate litigation lawyer to protect their best interests while ensuring continued compliance with state law.
When to Consider Contacting an Estate Litigation Lawyer
A Florida estate litigation lawyer could help heirs, beneficiaries, and personal representatives resolve contests including, but not limited to, the following:
Florida law presumes that most adults of sound mind have the legal capacity to execute a will and make other estate planning-related decisions. However, a will is only valid if it meets certain requirements. For example, a will must be:
- Made in writing
- Created by a person of sound mind, meaning they understand the purpose of a will, the nature of their relationship with heirs and beneficiaries, and their estate assets
- Signed by the testator in the presence of at least two witnesses
If a will is not properly executed, or contains ambiguous clauses, a beneficiary could claim that the will is invalid and cannot be admitted to probate.
Guardianship and Conservatorship Disputes
Guardianships can protect the financial and legal interests of a person who lacks the capacity to make decisions for and of their own accord. While these arrangements are broadly intended to ensure that a vulnerable minor or mentally incapacitated adult is afforded the resources necessary to sustain themselves, they are not always consensual or uncontested.
Trust Administration Claims
The establishment of a revocable living trust or irrevocable trust allows grantors to condition inheritances, which are often distributed without the need for formal probate. However, a trust only serves its intended purpose when it is fairly and competently administered.
If a trustee or beneficiary believes that a trust is being mismanaged, then they could initiate a claim against the trust or its trustees.
Trust Dissolution Claims
If a trust exhausts its resources or can no longer fulfill its intent, then then the trust’s continued possession of trust-controlled assets could prove detrimental to its beneficiaries.
Breach of Fiduciary Duty Lawsuits
Estate representatives and trustees have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the estate or in the best interests of the trust, respectively.
When an personal representative or trustee makes unreasonable decisions—perhaps by wastefully investing assets or by trying to use an estate’s assets for their own, personal purposes—they could breach their fiduciary duty, prompting a challenge from beneficiaries who believe that they are not receiving the inheritance that they are entitled to.