Estate challenges are common; however, contesting a will is rarely straightforward. While you do not need an attorney to petition the court to strike, amend, or reconsider a will, a probate litigation lawyer could help you build the compelling case needed to overcome Florida’s high standard for challenging a will.
Filing a Will Contest Can Be Complicated
Florida Limits Who Can File a Will Challenge
Anyone can file a probate lawsuit in Florida, provided that they have standing to challenge the estate. Petitioners can prove standing by demonstrating that the estate’s improper administration could harm their interests. People who have an interest in an estate are called “interested parties,” and generally include the beneficiaries of the will in question, disinherited beneficiaries, and creditors.
Other interested parties could include the following:
- The beneficiaries of a previous will
- Persons who would have been beneficiaries under state intestacy law (heirs-at-law)
- Guardians of interested minors
State Law Requires Contests to Meet a High Standard
An interested party may only file a will contest if they have reason to believe that the will does not accurately reflect the intent of the testator. To succeed, you must prove one of the following:
- The will was not executed in compliance with state law
- The testator lacked the mental capacity to write, sign, or execute a will
- The will was the result of fraud, duress, or undue influence
- The testator or witness's signatures were forged
Florida law presumes that most adults have the legal capacity to make their own estate planning decisions. The individual submitting the will to the court does have the burden of establishing prima facie the will's formal execution and attestation. This, however, is often as simple as presenting the court with a will that, on its face, meets the minimum execution requirements.
Petitioners thereafter contesting the will bear the much more difficult burden of proving the will is invalid due to one of the aforementioned reasons. If you believe that a loved one’s will may be invalid, you will need to gather the evidence needed to persuade the court. This could include:
- Copies of a previous will
- Samples of the decedent’s signature
- Testimony from witnesses or a handwriting expert
- Documentation and testimony from medical experts and caregivers
Even if a petitioner can prove that they have grounds to challenge the will, proceedings can be long, drawn out, and contingent on narrow interpretations of very technical laws.
How a Florida Probate Litigation Attorney Can Help
A Florida probate litigation attorney can help you understand and prepare for the complex task of challenging a will. Depending on the circumstances of your claim, your lawyer could:
Investigate Your Claim
Probate claims can have unexpected outcomes, and many contests never go all the way to trial. During your initial consultation with a Florida will contest attorney, you will have the opportunity to discuss your case. After hearing your side of the story, your lawyer will weigh the evidence and help you evaluate your options.
If you have a viable case, your attorney will help you further investigate, collecting the evidence needed to prevail in negotiations or in court.
File the Right Paperwork at the Right Times
Contested probate proceedings often take time to resolve, and are a deadline-driven processes. Claimants must file their complaint within the state statute of limitations and the Florida probate rules, respond to court requests timely, and comply with the estate during discovery.
Since probate contests are a type of lawsuit, missing a deadline—even a minor deadline—could result in your case being dismissed.
Fight for Your Rights
Your attorney will aggressively advocate for your best interests, whether in negotiations with the estate or before a Florida probate judge. Your attorney will carefully navigate the many pitfalls that are inevitable in a contested probate proceeding, and present you with your options as the case evolves.
Often, the best resolutions occur before trial and could include an out-of-court settlement with the estate, or arbitration overseen by an impartial third party. However, if the estate is unwilling to negotiate in good faith, we will take the evidence collected and fight for your rights before the court.
Contact a Florida Probate Litigation Attorney Today
Contesting a will is a big decision, but you cannot afford to wait. If you take too long to contact an experienced Florida probate attorney, the statute of limitations on your claim could lapse.
Please send DeLoach, Hofstra & Cavonis, PA, a message online or call us at 727-397-5571 to schedule your initial consultation as soon as possible.