Probate and Will Contests
Trusted Jacksonville Probate Lawyers and Will Contests Attorneys
Estate Administration Lawyers for St. Augustine and Jacksonville
The Florida probate process can be difficult for families and representatives of the estate to navigate without an lawyer. Our Jacksonville probate attorneys understand this challenge. At the Jacksonville law office of Beller & Bustamante, P.L., we go to great lengths to guide our Jacksonville probate and will estate planning clients through the legal system and explain the steps we must take to resolve your matter.
In probate matters we focus on guidance and education. Our friendly and accessible attorneys sit down with the family member or personal representative of the estate, learn about their family dynamics, review their specific situation, and answer their estate planning and probate questions. We then take time to guide them through all aspects of the probate process, like gathering and valuing property, creating inventories of all assets and debts, and handling matters related to creditors of the probate estate.
At the Jacksonville, FL law firm of Beller & Bustamante, P.L., our Jacksonville probate attorneys have in-depth knowledge of Florida and federal probate law and the probate court system. Each of our skilled attorneys has over a decade of experience working with clients to help them gain favorable outcomes under Florida law. We share this experience with our clients, working with them at each step of the way.
Losing someone to death is difficult enough. Battling with family members over the interpretation of a will can permanently destroy relationships. Our attorneys also assist individuals and families with Jacksonville will contests and probate litigation. As experienced Jacksonville probate lawyers, we know that these disputes over the estate of a loved one are painful and create a great deal of stress. We work diligently to protect your interests and the wishes of the person who made the will (known as the testator or testatrix), while being sensitive to the strain it places on you. If you are attempting to contest a will, our lawyers can review your claim to determine if your reason falls under one of Florida’s legally valid grounds to contest the testament of a deceased person.
Who Can Challenge a Will in Florida?
To challenge a will in Florida, you must first demonstrate that you have “legal standing” where the will is concerned. Florida only recognizes legal standing for “interested persons” in the will. State statute defines “interested persons” as “anyone who may reasonably be expected to be affected” by the estate’s administration.
Every case is unique, but as a general rule, the following parties can qualify as “interested persons” and therefore challenge a will in Florida:
- Heirs (spouses, children, parents, etc in the family tree.)
- Beneficiaries (anyone named in the will as a recipient of the deceased person’s assets or legal interests)
- Creditors (i.e., anyone to whom the decedent owed a debt)
The court must determine whether a person is “interested” on a case-by-case basis, and depending on the circumstances, there might be some gray area. You should talk with an experienced Jacksonville Will Contest Attorney about whether you might have a good argument for legal standing in your case.
When Is a Will Valid?
To be valid, a will must be executed according to the formal and procedural requirements of Florida estate law, as follows:
- The will must be in writing
- The will must be signed by the testator
- The testator’s signature must be witnessed by two qualified witnesses
- The two witnesses must sign the will in each other’s presence and in the presence of the testator
Is your loved one’s will written but there’s a dispute as to the signature? Have you found more than one will and you aren’t sure which one controls? Do you believe the will itself is valid, but an affidavit or a later modification of the will is not? An experienced Jacksonville wills lawyer can help you understand your situation and how the law might apply.
Grounds for Challenging a Will in Florida
When the terms of a will are revealed, it isn’t uncommon for family members to feel surprised. But in Florida, you can’t challenge a will simply because you don’t like what it says or because the terms weren’t what you expected.
In fact, even if the deceased person made you a crystal-clear promise about what would go in his or her estate plan, if that promise is not reflected in the will upon their death (and if the will is otherwise valid), it is very difficult for you to bring a challenge.
To successfully contest a will in Florida, you must have specific grounds for doing so.
The grounds for challenging a will in Florida are:
- An invalid or improperly executed will (see above)
- Lack of testamentary capacity (the deceased person was not of sound mind when making the will)
- Undue influence (when a beneficiary of the will had a close relationship with the testator and used that relationship to procure his or her benefit under the will)
- Fraud in the inducement (when the testator includes certain terms in the will because he or she has been led to believe something that isn’t true)
- Fraud in the execution (when the testator is tricked into writing or signing a will)
Timeline for Florida Probate Litigation (When Can You Challenge a Will?)
As highly experienced Jacksonville probate litigation attorneys, we can’t emphasize enough the importance of taking fast action after a death if you suspect you might have grounds for challenging a will.
Courts try to make probate litigation efficient (even though the cases sometimes drag out for quite a long time). Because of that, Florida has enacted a very strict, very narrow time window for initiating a challenge to probate litigation: 90 days.
The 90-day period begins on the date that the estate’s executor (or personal representative) files the notice of administration, which is a formal document notifying the potential beneficiaries and creditors that probate is beginning.
If you are very close to the 90-day mark, or even if 90 days have already passed, we still urge you to contact our office. There are situations in which challenges can still be filed beyond the 90-day mark. Time is of the essence, however, so please contact our Jacksonville will contest lawyers as soon as possible.
Not Sure Whether a Will Contest Makes Sense in Your Case?
You aren’t alone. Family matters are inherently sensitive, and in the midst of grief, a will contest might be the farthest thing from your mind.
But protecting your loved one’s true intentions is important and worthwhile. And because Florida provides such a small window of time for righting wrongs, it is in your best interest to talk to an attorney as soon as possible.
You may not understand every facet of your case or how the law might apply to your loved one’s will, but an experienced Jacksonville Probate Lawyer at Beller & Bustamante, P.L. can answer your administration and litigation questions and help you consider your options. We encourage you to give us a call.
Schedule a Consultation with a Skilled Jacksonville Probate Attorney and Will Contests Lawyer Now
Where do you begin when you have lost someone you love? Begin with an experienced and compassionate Jacksonville Probate Law Firm.
Contact Beller & Bustamante, P.L., by calling (904) 288-4414 to speak with our helpful lawyers about what steps to take in the probate process or to contest a will. We work directly with you to help you through this often-difficult time. We also offer highly experienced estate planning assistance.