Estate Litigation encompasses a variety of legal actions related to the estate of a deceased person. The action may relate to real property or personal property, and may be initiated by a Personal Representative, a Trustee, a beneficiary, an interested party or a third party.
What Causes Estate Litigation?
While not a comprehensive list, the following are examples of circumstances that may contribute to an estate being involved in litigation:
- The document was procured by fraud, duress, mistake or undue influence.
- The decedent did not have the capacity to understand the document they were signing.
- The unequal distribution of assets that favors one beneficiary over another.
- The omission of a child as a beneficiary.
- A very complicated and/or restrictive distribution plan.
- Failure to clearly identify and title assets after a subsequent marriage.
- Appointing a Personal Representative or Trustee that is not capable of carrying out their duties.
- Appointing a Personal Representative or Trustee that is not capable of appropriately communicating with the beneficiaries.
- Not using an experienced estate planning attorney to draft the documents.
- The decedent signing a document on his or her “death bed” or during a severe illness.
- Failing to review the documents on a regular basis.
- Not providing for a surviving spouse or minor children pursuant to legal requirements.
- Failing to disclose the name of an interested party to the drafting attorney.
What Can a Beneficiary Do?
If you feel that you should have an interest in a decedent’s estate and/or that the estate is not being properly administered, you should contact an experienced attorney. The attorney can review the documents and explain the process by which the estate will be administered. They will also review the facts of the case and advise if your rights have been violated or if the Personal Representative or Trustee is acting improperly pursuant to Florida Statutes.
If it is determined that you have a claim or a complaint to pursue, the attorney will determine the best course of action based on your specific circumstances. The attorney may contact the Personal Representative or Trustee to remedy the problem or they may file a complaint with the court to assert your rights or to request the Personal Representative or Trustee be removed.
What Can a Personal Representative or Trustee Do?
If you are administering an estate and have been accused of acting improperly or are aware of a potential legal problem, you should contact an experienced attorney. The attorney can determine if your actions were in conflict with the Will, Trust or Florida Statutes and advise the best way to correct the problem and ensure the estate is appropriately administered.
If a claim or complaint is filed by a beneficiary or third party, the attorney will help you determine the validity of the case. The attorney may move to dismiss, settle, defend or file a counterclaim. The intent of the decedent, the facts of the situation and the rapport of the parties involved will factor in to the decision of how the estate will respond.
Common Estate Litigation Issues
It is important to know your rights and have an experienced attorney to represent your interests. Below is more information on some of the most commonly litigated issues in estate planning:
- Will Contests and Trust Contests
- Representing Beneficiaries and Interested Parties
- Breach of Fiduciary Duty
- Disputes between a Personal Representative or Trustee and a Beneficiary
- Disputes between Co-Personal Representatives or Co-Trustees
- Surviving Spouse’s Rights – Elective Share
- Joint Accounts
- Pursuing and Defending Legal Actions