In estates, litigation happens when someone feels that they have been treated unfairly. Although every case has its own (long) story with many components, it’s easy to separate all estate litigation into a few basic patterns:
Will Contests – If a person is left out of a will, they may bring a will contest. Most will contestants claim that the person who wrote the will was not well enough to make a will or was tricked into making one. If a will looks or feels like a fake, a will contest may be brought based on forgery. Winning South Florida will contests is what we do.
Spousal Claims – Florida law is protective of the rights of the spouse. Even if a spouse is left out of the will or trust, she can still claim up to 30% of the deceased person’s property. A spousal claim works not only for straightforward assets left after death, but also on some of the tricky property transfers that are carried out to disinherit a spouse.
Kinship Disputes – if after a person dies a claim to the estate is made by a family member that the other family members did not know about or did not consider to be a relative, a kinship dispute arises. When a person’s relationship to the decedent is challenged in a South Florida court, they will need to present their documents and testimony before a Florida court, to prove that they are related to the decedent.
Stealing from the Estate – it’s shocking every time it happens, but there are thieves out there that will steal from unsuspecting heirs of an estate. The thief can be the very person who is charged with taking care of the heirs and managing the estate, like the personal representative or some agent that has access to the money, such as a banker or broker, or even an attorney. Heirs that suspect theft will bring a proceeding for return of assets to the estate.
Pre-Death Transfer Out of an Estate – When someone dies and it turns out that they gave away some of their money or property before they died, it is natural of the people that were not as lucky to ask why. Did the person that died really prefer that individual to their other friends and relatives? Or was there some foul play on the part of the recipient of the extra assets? If there is no reasonable explanation for the recipient getting the money or property before the contributor’s death, and especially if the now deceased contributor was susceptible to influence when the gift was made, the other relatives or friends may bring a fraud proceeding.
Hiding Money or Property – If a person is suspected of hiding money or property of the estate, those who suspect him will bring a proceeding for discovery of assets. In discovery of assets, estate attorneys use the powers granted to them by the court to issue subpoenas for information about the alleged hidden assets. Proceedings for discovery of assets are not always successful. After all, assets can be so well hidden that they are impossible to find. Not to mention, sometimes the suspicion of hidden assets is simply unfounded. However, if there are hidden assets, and they can be reached by a subpoena, a discovery of assets proceeding can be effective in bringing the assets back into the estate.
Replacement of an Incompetent Manager – Most people who are appointed to manage an estate are up to par. But some are just not good with following through on tasks and managing finances. If a personal representative is not up to the task, they need to be replaced. If they fail to see it themselves and refuse to step down, then it’s time to ask the judge to intervene and appoint someone else.
Disagreement over What Happens to Estate Money or Property – Money is a sensitive matter, and the person who manages the estate can face tough choices. Is it better to sell real estate or to hold on to it and wait for the market to bounce back? Should property be distributed to heirs directly, or should it be sold and the proceeds distributed? Which heir gets what? Which property will be sold off to pay taxes? What’s the worth of an asset? When there is no will, or a will is silent or unclear on those issues, and heirs believe that the person charged with the estate is making a bad decision, they may bring a lawsuit, and have a court use its experience to examine the facts of the matter and hand down a decision that’s best for the estate.
Unclear Will or Trust – Some wills are badly drafted, and as a consequence, it is unclear as to what they mean. There can be mix-ups and mistakes in names, numbers, addresses, and locations. We’ve seen people accidentally left out even though the decedent meant them to be in, people are mixed up with others, written numbers are different from typed numbers, as in “one million dollars ($2,000,000)”, or assume things that are not in the will. When opposing parties’ interests ride on differing interpretations of a will, a South Florida-area court will need to intervene, do their best in figuring out (or guessing) what the decedent meant, and interpreting the will.
Outdated Will – Some wills contain incorrect information because they are outdated. When dealing with a will that was not updated for a very long time, we encounter children and spouses that were not yet there when the will was made, and more commonly, people who are mentioned in the will but are no longer living when the will is probated in South Florida.
If you would like to discuss your problem with a South Florida, Florida estate attorney Albert Goodwin, Esq., give me a call at (954) 239-1283 for a free consultation.