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Estate Litigation

In Florida probate administration is the process of settling a deceased person’s estate and distributing the assets to the beneficiaries or heirs. A personal representative appointed by a circuit court judge manages the process, while the circuit court oversees it. Estate administration can be a very emotional and difficult process. The death of a loved one is challenging, and sorting through his or her property can bring to head a variety of feelings. As a result, it is not unusual for disputes to develop during the process. For example, there may be disagreements among beneficiaries or heirs related to distributions. Beneficiaries and heirs may become upset with the personal representative about estate management decisions. Outside parties such as creditors or other claimants may initiate litigation against the estate. Estate litigation may extend the length of the administration process and may be costly to the estate. If you are involved in a dispute over an estate, contact an experienced Fort Lauderdale estate litigation attorney who will help you understand the process of resolving disputes related to estates.

Types of Estate Disputes

When an estate goes through probate, there are a variety of disagreements that may arise. One of the most common is a challenge to the validity of the will. Grounds for will challenges include improper execution, lack of testamentary capacity, and undue influence.

  • Improper execution. As a Fort Lauderdale estate litigation lawyer will explain, one of the more common reasons to challenging the validity of a will is based on how the will was executed. Florida law requires that a will must be executed in a very specific way manner. In order to be valid the will must written and must be signed in the presence of at least two credible witnesses who must also sign the will. Also, the testator must be at least 18 years old and must be of sound mind and memory. Oral wills are not valid in Florida.
  • Testamentary capacity. In Florida in order for a will to be valid the testator must have had the capacity to execute a valid will at the time of execution. This means that the testator must have been of sound mind. Sound mind means that the testator had the mental capacity to appreciate that he or she was executing a will. Claims of lack of mental capacity are typically based on a diagnosis of dementia, Alzheimer’s, or other physical or a psychiatric issue that has impaired the testator’s cognitive and mental ability. Medical records and testimony of friend and family would be required to support such a claim.
  • Undue influence. If an interested party believes that the will was signed due to illegal pressure from someone seeking to benefit from the will, he or she may file a petition to contest the will or to revoke probate based on undue influence. Undue influence is more than asking a testator to for a testamentary gift. Undue influence involves over-persuasion, coercion, duress, force such that the testator’s decision is not based on free will. If you are concerned that a caretaker, relative, friend, or any other person exerted undue influence over a testator, discuss your concerns with an estate litigation attorney in Fort Lauderdale.

Another basis for estate litigation is related to the fiduciaries. A fiduciary is someone who manages aspects of the estate. Examples of fiduciaries include the personal representatives and trustees, if any, as well as other individuals hired by the estate to care for certain aspects of the estate. Fiduciaries are required to handle estate affairs with a high degree of care and ethics. Breach of this duty may result in claims against the fiduciary and personal liability.

Contact the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates.

Because of the complexities involved in estate litigation, if you are an interested party in an estate dispute it is important that you are represented by an attorney with experience. The estate litigation attorneys serving Fort Lauderdale at the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates have over 20 years of experience representing personal representatives, beneficiaries, and heirs in complex estate litigation. We have the skill and resources to help. Contact us attorneys at 561-710-4000 to schedule a free, no obligation consultation regarding your case.