After an individual dies, their assets must be properly divided and if possible, their debts must be paid. This process of dissemination is called probate. Ideally, a deceased individual had a thorough, comprehensive will that can be used to quickly and easily complete the probate process. In these instances, court is not usually necessary.
However, when complications emerge regarding the deceased individual’s assets, lawsuits may be filed and probate litigation may follow. At Beller & Bustamante, our attorneys understand the myriad, complicated issues that can arise during the division of a deceased loved one’s property, and we can effectively and sympathetically help you get through this challenging time.
Here, we have summarized a few of the main causes of probate litigation cases:
If There Is no Will
In circumstances where the deceased either did not have a will or had an inadequate will, probate litigation is often involved. This is called “will construction,” and is also necessary if beneficiaries listed in the will are either deceased or have disappeared. In this case, the matter will be handled by a judge who decides how the deceased person’s assets should be properly divided.
When a Will Is Contested
Sometimes the deceased person has a will that is thorough and specific, yet probate litigation still becomes necessary. There are a handful of disputes that can lead to this, the following of which are the most common:
- Mistakes in a Will – Claiming mistakes in a will happens often, as family members and loved ones often feel that the deceased person did not intend a particular outcome of their will. For example, a will may state that, after all debts have been taken care of and specific amounts have been allocated to beneficiaries, the remaining funds (or “residue”) shall be given to a humanitarian organization or charity. However, if the residue ends up being a large percentage of the individual’s estate, his or her beneficiaries may feel that the deceased did not adequately understand how much would be left, and he or she would have acted differently if they had known. Nevertheless, the courts are very unlikely to grant many such appeals, as they are strictly matters of opinion.
- Undue Influence – There are a number of different ways that a person could have exercised undue influence over an individual and his or her will. The primary motivation of undue influence is for changes to be made to the will. For example, if someone is misled by being told inaccuracies about their assets, this could have a great influence on the way they decide to divide those assets in a will.
- Lack of Testamentary Capacity – Similarly, if it can be proven that someone was not in a mentally sound state while writing (or making changes to) a will, a court may be willing to affirm the complaints of plaintiffs and adjust the division of assets accordingly. Unlike undue influence, this is entirely focused on the mental state of the individual at the time of completing a will; however, if a beneficiary was aware of the individual’s mental state, they may have used it as a way to make favorable changes to a will.
Beller & Bustamante, Serving Jacksonville’s Probate Needs
At Beller & Bustamante, our attorneys have decades of experience working on probate and estate issues. We understand the many challenges that can arise during the probate process – as well as the many complex legal problems – and we look forward to speaking with you about your case. For a consultation, call us at (904) 288-4414 or send us an email through our contact page.