What is Probate?Probate refers to a court-supervised process used to determine who will inherit from a person’s estate once they pass away. Typically, the probate process involves admitting a deceased person’s Will in probate court (if there is a Will). Once the Will is admitted to probate, a personal representative is often appointed to initiate the estate administration process to pay estate expenses and administer the decedent’s assets to the correct heirs according to the Will.
What is Probate Litigation?Sometimes the probate process can be complicated and stressful, causing disputes between heirs and family members. When conflicts arise, probate litigation takes place to resolve the disputes related to the estate. In these cases, the personal representative may need to retain an experienced probate litigation attorney. A Melbourne probate attorney at Lacey Lyons Rezanka can assist with your case by helping you through the litigation process every step of the way. Our probate attorney offers creative solutions to a variety of different types of estate disputes, including, but not limited to, the following:
- Breach of Fiduciary Duty by Personal Representative or Trustee. The fiduciary of an estate or trust owes certain duties to its beneficiaries, such as the duty of loyalty, a duty to account for and inform, and a duty to administer the estate prudently. When a beneficiary of an estate believes a breach of one of these duties has taken place, fiduciary probate litigation may be initiated.
- Will and Trust Contests. When the terms of a Will or trust are vague or subject to multiple interpretations, its meaning may be disputed, leading to probate litigation in court.
- Wrongful Administration of Assets. When an asset is administered improperly and not according to the Will, disputes may arise about the wrongful transfer of the asset.
- Disputes Over Spousal Rights. When a deceased individual has had multiple marriages, disputes may arise from prior spouses or children from a previous marriage regarding inheritance matters.
- Estate Accounting Issues. Keeping a detailed accounting of an estate’s income, assets, and expenses can be burdensome for some personal representatives, especially those without experience in accounting. Accordingly, sometimes errors can be made, and questions can arise about how the estate’s income or assets were spent or administered.
What are Examples of Probate Disputes?Because the estate administration process can be challenging with regard to various tax and business-related considerations and personal, emotional family relationships, administering an estate can often lead to disputes over decisions that need to be made. Below are some examples of common probate disputes that should be taken into account when going through the estate planning process to help your loved ones avoid probate litigation altogether:
- Disputes Against Personal Representatives. In some estate cases, interested parties may not be happy with the performance of the personal representative, which may lead to arguments, especially when it comes to how assets are distributed or calculated.
- Multiple Marriages. Sometimes multiple marriages can lead to disputes over a Will for several different reasons, such as conflicts between various heirs (e.g., where a first spouse and children inherit less or nothing at all when there is a second spouse and children).
- Disinherited Family Members. When certain family members are disinherited, sometimes estate disputes arise. The disinherited family member may feel like they were left out of the deceased’s Will because of issues such as undue influence or fraud.
- Issues with Estate Planning Documents at Death. Another issue that causes estate litigation is a problem with the estate planning documents themselves. Sometimes estate documents are overly complicated for unclear reasons, which can cause confusion and conflict between interested parties.