Decisive Jacksonville Estate and Probate Lawyers
Experienced Estate and Probate Attorneys Serving Families in the Jacksonville Area
As many people who have lost a loved one have discovered, handling the affairs of someone’s estate is not always a smooth and easy process. A family member, caregiver, neighbor, or friend may use ‘undue influence’ to encourage your loved one to create a will that does not express his or her true wishes. You may also suspect a will is forged or changed improperly. If these issues arise, you need an experienced Jacksonville estate and probate litigation lawyer to help you navigate the complex legal issues that are involved. The law office of Beller and Bustamante has the experience and skills to help you succeed.
The probate and estate litigation attorneys at the Jacksonville office of Beller and Bustamante have combined over 30 years working with clients. They represent clients in all types of estate disputes, including:
- Will contests
- Challenging personal representative (executor) actions
- Guardianship litigation
- Trust litigation
- Trustee malfeasance
- Undue influence in the creation of will or trust
- Undue influence in the creation of a power of attorney
- Financial abuse of the elderly
If you believe that the purported will is invalid, was written under improper circumstances, was not the real or final will, or does not reflect your loved one’s intentions – you may able to challenge the will in Florida through a legal process known as a will contest or caveat.
Grounds for challenging a will in Florida include:
- Improper formation or execution
- Fraud, undue influence, or duress
- Lack of testamentary capacity
- The existence of a later true will
Learn more about how our Jacksonville estate attorneys can help with will contests in Florida.
Probate is the legal process by which a Florida court will administer a deceased person’s will and dispose of his or her estate.
This formal process is the mechanism by which the court:
- Identifies and gathers the estate’s assets
- Identifies and pays the estate’s debts
- Distributes the estate’s assets to the beneficiaries
- Considers challenges to the will
- Enforces other provisions of the will
Estates are assigned a personal representative (called an executor in other states). This person has a number of important legal duties during the probate process, which can be quite complex and cumbersome. For that reason, the personal representative often hires an attorney to assist with these duties and avoid becoming liable for mistakes. In addition, Florida law requires that a personal representative have an attorney.
Challenging a Personal Representative
Family members sometimes suspect that the person appointed as personal representative or executor isn’t the best person for the job. They may even have reason to believe the person is behaving improperly or unlawfully in carrying out their duties.
In those cases, an attorney can help you challenge the person’s status as personal representative.
Grounds for challenging the personal representative include:
- Mental incapacity
- Physical incapacity
- Conflicts of interest between the personal representative and the estate
- Evidence of bad faith, moral turpitude, dishonesty, or fraud
- Evidence that the deceased appointed someone else as the personal representative (such as in a later will)
In Florida, an adult can become the legal guardian of another person if the latter (known as the ward) is incapable of making personal, legal, financial, or medical decisions for themselves. This is most common in cases where the ward is a minor, suffers from permanent mental disability, exhibits behavioral health problems, or becomes unexpectedly incapacitated (e.g., after an accident, a dementia diagnosis, etc.).
Strict rules govern when someone can be appointed a guardian and the specific powers they can exercise as guardian.
It’s best to resolve guardianship questions before the need arises. That can be accomplished through an estate plan, including a will, a power of attorney, a designation of health care surrogate, a living will, and other essential documentation.
In the absence of those documents, it may be necessary to proceed with guardianship litigation. The Jacksonville estate lawyers at Beller & Bustamante, P.L. can help.
Trust Litigation (including Trustee Malfeasance)
Trusts are usually created with certain conditions that must be met for the distribution of assets held in trust. Trust litigation is the process of challenging or enforcing the terms of a trust or its distribution. In some cases, that might involve allegations of bad faith, malfeasance, or fraud by the person responsible for carrying out the trust’s terms: the trustee. If you need help litigating the terms of a trust, alleging trustee malfeasance, or defending against bad faith allegations, we can help.
Undue Influence (Wills, Trusts, Estate Plans, Powers of Attorney, Etc.)
When people create wills, trusts, or other estate planning instruments, they must do so in sound mind and of their own free will.
Unfortunately, third parties sometimes attempt to improperly influence that process for their own benefit. Examples of undue influence might include using:
- “Artful or fraudulent contrivances”
- Excess persuasion
Some cases of undue influence might be less obvious. For example, the wrongdoer might not overtly intimidate the person making the will, but he or she might nevertheless be so close to the person to have inappropriate or unfair leverage during the process of drafting and executing the documents.
The law on undue influence in Florida is complex. Several key court cases have established a series of factors that must be considered when determining where influence was improper or undue. This determination can also shift the burden of proof in a legal action, forcing the opposing party to prove certain factors as well. For that reason, it’s important to talk with an experienced Florida estate law attorney to make sure you understand the law and how it might apply to your case.
Financial Abuse of the Elderly
Elder abuse is hard to imagine, but it does happen, and it can take many forms. One of the most common is financial abuse of the elderly, in which a third party takes advantage of the elderly person for financial gain.
Financial abuse can include theft, extortion, undue influence, or fraud.
If you suspect your loved one is or was the victim of financial abuse, whether by another relative, a nursing home employee, or some other third party, please contact our office right away.
Get Answers to Your Questions: Contact Our Savvy Jacksonville Estate & Probate Attorneys
Schedule your consultation with skilled Florida estate and probate litigation lawyers. Contact the law office of Beller and Bustamante in their Jacksonville office at (904) 288-4414 today.