DENTON COUNTY CONTESTED PROBATE LAWYERS
PUT SKILLED LITIGATORS IN YOUR CORNER
After the death of a family member or loved one, distribution of their assets can be a smooth and simple process. However, sometimes the heirs or beneficiaries disagree with the terms of the will or the distribution of a trust. In these circumstances, you need a probate attorney with experience as a tough litigator.
At North Texas Family Lawyers, we understand that going through probate is an emotional time not only due to the loss of a loved one but due to the financial matters at stake for everyone involved. For this reason, matters of probate sometimes result in litigation. Effectively resolving these issues can be difficult, even for many estate attorneys. Litigation is a separate set of skills that our team is equipped to handle in order to help you find you an optimal resolution.
Probate law is the process of making sure an individual’s assets are properly distributed after death. This also includes paying off debt and, when relevant, making sure all creditors have been satisfied. In a best-case scenario, grieving family members do not have to worry about adding a stressful legal battle on top of already-raw emotions. However, real life rarely goes as smoothly as we want it to, and it is common for conflicts to arise in this arena.
While probate law is technically its own category of legal practice, at North Texas Family Lawyers, we understand that probate—by its very nature—is usually a family affair. Because of this, we have made probate law an integral part of our family law practice. This includes matters involving wills and trusts.
Our firm handles the following probate litigation matters:
- Will contests
- Undue influence and incapacity claims
- Interference with inheritance rights
- Creditor disputes
- Trust disputes
- Family partnerships
- Interpretation of document language
- Fiduciary or trustee misconduct
- Improper favoritism of a beneficiary
Call North Texas Family Lawyers for your probate, will, and trust issues at (972) 402-6367 or contact us online. Speak with a Denton County contested probate attorney today.
In simplest terms, a will is a legal document that states where you want your property to go once you die. This might sound straightforward, but many problems can arise when trying to execute these terms. When a formal argument is made to invalidate all or some of a person’s will, this is called a will contest. In general, it can be difficult to persuade a Texas court to overturn a valid will. However, it can happen.
Words are powerful, and, when interpreting a will, probate judges are bound not by the individual’s intent, but rather, the actual language of the document. If a term or phrase is ambiguous, a beneficiary could have an argument that the clause in question should be settled by a matter of law.
Another scenario that could prompt a will contest is if someone improperly manipulated the decedent (the person who died) during the will’s drafting. This is called undue influence, and for this argument to prevail, Texas law requires three elements to be met:
- Someone had influence over the decedent, and exerted that influence;
- That the influence was strong enough to overpower the decedent’s mind at the time of drafting; and
- The terms of the will would not have been written that way, if not for the influence.
Furthermore, these elements require actual evidence—mere suspicion of undue influence isn’t enough. Neither is a romantic relationship, for that matter. Rather, the contester must provide proof that the influence was strong enough to rob the decedent of free will at the time of drafting.
Instances of fraud would also make a probate judge think twice about upholding a will. In probate law, fraud occurs when someone intentionally submits an improper will or false information with the intent to deceive. Again, evidence is key. Whether it was an executor, spouse, guardian, administrator, or trustee who committed the fraud, the challenger must act quickly and be able to provide ample evidence to support such a claim.
This applies to both the individual’s age and his or her mental fortitude. The first is pretty straightforward. Since minors do not have the power to make legally binding documents, the decedent must have been at least eighteen at the time the will was made. Otherwise it’s void.
The second element—proving someone had a sound mind—can be a bit trickier. Especially since people often suffer from brief lapses in awareness as they grow older. In Texas, courts have ruled that the mere presence of these lapses (such as dementia or Alzheimer’s) does not necessarily invalidate a will, so long as the person has a clear understanding of business, property, beneficiaries, and the will execution process at the time of drafting.
INTEFERENCE WITH INHERITANCE RIGHTS
Of course, problems with wills aren’t excluded to inside tampering or poorly-worded paragraphs. Sometimes, estate beneficiaries may find themselves in a situation where an outside third-party has interfered with their ability to claim an inheritance. In probate, this meddling is considered an actionable claim if the actions intentionally prevented a beneficiary from inheriting. This avenue allows beneficiaries to claim damages against an outside influencer instead of (or in addition to) the actual estate.
Wills are not the only place where probate law comes into close proximity with family law. Another area of probate law that our firm handles is trusts.
In contrast to wills, where a court oversees the transfer of a decedent’s property, trusts allow individuals to bequeath assets after death without the hassle and cost of probate court. It may be helpful to think of a trust as a kind of savings account. Here, an individual (the “trustor) puts property into an account (so to speak), to be overseen and executed by another party (the “trustee,” a kind of banker, in our scenario). Once the trust is complete, the trustor no longer owns the property, which means that upon death, the terms of the trust can be executed without having to slog through probate. It’s a little convoluted, and many different types of trusts exist, but those are the basics. If a trust is something you’re interested in, one of our attorneys can help you decide which type of trust will best fit your needs.
TRUST DISPUTES & TRUSTEE MISCONDUCT
Unfortunately, despite the convenience of avoiding probate court, trust disputes still do occur. One common reason for these disagreements can arise in regards to the trust’s drafting. For example, if trust assets were not properly accounted for or an uneven division of property between beneficiaries was allowed, a dispute may arise.
Another trigger for trust litigation consists of trustee misconduct. Examples of this misconduct could include improper favoritism towards certain beneficiaries, mishandling of property and investments, or failing to execute the trust according to its terms.
Whether you have concerns about the trust itself or are worried about trustee misconduct, the team at North Texas Family Lawyers is well equipped to handle the full range of trust-related issues. Avoiding probate court doesn’t mean you have to put up with something that isn’t right and we are here to help make sure you benefit the way the trustor intended.
Turn to an Experienced Team of Litigators
We understand the complex legal issues that can and do arise in probate litigation. We also understand the very powerful emotional issues that are often involved. Our goal is to get the results you want and minimize the distress for everyone.
Need representation in probate or with trust administration? Arrange for a consultation with a Denton County contested probate attorney by calling North Texas Family Lawyers at (972) 402-6367. Also serving Highland Village, Flower Mound, Carrollton, and Lewisville.