Probate /Trust Litigation
A person’s death not only causes the surviving family members grief and sadness, but also the responsibility to respect the decedent’s wishes regarding the distribution of assets. The probate process can be overwhelming, especially during a time of grief. Seidensticker and San Filippo have handled probate litigation and disputes.
What is a Will?
A will is a legal document that designates the beneficiaries of an estate, as well as how and when the beneficiaries will receive their inheritance. When a person dies, their estate goes through a process called probate. If no will is present, the decedent’s assets will be distributed according to Florida law. If there is no will, a person dies “intestate,” meaning that the probate court will follow Florida’s law to distribute the decedent’s assets to the appropriate heirs. When a person dies intestate, the assets will first be distributed to the decedent’s spouse, if living, or to the decedent’s children. If the decedent has no surviving spouse or children, the probate court will look for surviving parents and siblings. The probate court will conduct a search for all eligible heirs.
What is Probate?
Probate is a court-supervised process for determining the distribution of the decedent’s assets upon death. At issue are the decedent’s debts, estate taxes, creditor claims, and claims of the surviving family members. We treat probate matters with compassion and sensitivity.
Typically, probate litigation includes determining the validity, meaning, construction and administration of a will or a trust. Disputes arise as to who holds claim to the assets involved with the will or trust: creditors, surviving spouses and surviving children. Challenges that arise in probate litigation include:
- Breach of fiduciary duty
- Trust litigation
- Florida law surrounding a surviving spouse’s rights
- Joint bank accounts
- Guardianship litigation
- Forgery claims
- Elder abuse claims
What Can Make a Will Invalid?
There are several reasons that a will or trust may be deemed invalid, including:
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- The will/trust was not executed in accordance with Florida law. Under Florida law, a person aged 18 or older who is of sound mind may execute a will. The will must be executed without undue influence, it must be in writing, and it must be witnessed by two individuals.
- The decedent lacked capacity to understand and enact the will/trust. Sometimes a person becomes too frail or disoriented to mentally understand the implications of their actions. If a person signs a will or trust while very sick or without the ability to understand the implications of their actions, the will at hand may be deemed invalid due to the decedent’s lack of capacity at the time of the signing.
- Someone exerted undue influence over the decedent when constructing the will/trust. When people age or become ill, they often become dependent on the assistance of others. People who are in a vulnerable state may be open to being unreasonably influenced by a person who does not have their best interests at heart. In such situations, a person may be coerced to sign a will that does not reflect their desired distribution of assets, but instead reflects the desire of the person who exerted the influence. An end-of-life caregiver, a new girlfriend or boyfriend, assisted living or nursing home staff member, or anyone else in a position of trust may be able to exert undue influence over an elderly or infirm person.
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