When someone dies, a legal process begins that determines how their assets will be distributed. The process is known as probate and can vary according to the state where the person died. Florida has its own unique probate process, which can be uneventful and straightforward but can also result in complex disputes that can be difficult to unravel. If you or your family is facing a probate issue, an experienced Florida and Palm Beach County probate litigation lawyer can help you understand your options and navigate this difficult time.
Three Common Types of Probate Disputes
Generally speaking, probate litigation - also commonly referred to as estate litigation - typically arises from one or more of the following types of probate disputes:
- Will contests
- Breach of fiduciary duty claims
- Surviving spouse claims
A Palm Beach County probate litigation lawyer at our firm can help you determine the legal options available to you should you find yourself facing probate.
Will Contests/Challenging a Will in Florida
The most basic form of probate litigation involves challenging the will itself. In a will contest, the party challenging the will is essentially arguing that the will should be declared invalid. Under Florida law, will contests typically involve one or more of the following claims:
- Lack of capacity. In order for a will to be considered valid, the decedent must have been “of sound mind” when the will was drafted. If the decedent was suffering from a mental illness such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, someone could argue that the decedent lacked the mental capacity to understand the terms or consequences of their will.
- Undue influence. Parties may also argue that a will should be set aside because the decedent was unduly influenced to draft the will a certain way. Undue influence can be shown by proving that someone who substantially benefited from the will had a confidential relationship with the decedent and was involved in obtaining or drafting the will.
- Lack of formalities. Florida law requires that wills be executed in a certain way. For example, the will must be in writing and signed by the decedent in the presence of two witnesses, who must also sign the will. Failure to observe these formalities can precipitate a challenge to the validity of the will.
Breach of Fiduciary Duty in Florida
At the beginning of the probate process, the court appoints a personal representative (referred to as an executor or administrator) to administer the assets of the estate. The personal representative has a fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries of the estate, meaning they must act in the best interests of the beneficiaries at all times. It is common for beneficiaries, creditors, and other parties to claim that the personal representative has breached their fiduciary duty by taking a certain action or failing to act. These cases are complicated, and we recommend that you discuss your case with a Florida and Palm Beach County probate litigation lawyer if you think you may have a claim.
Claims Involving the Rights of Surviving Spouses
Florida law grants important rights to a decedent’s surviving spouse. For example:
- A surviving spouse has homestead rights in the primary residence and is entitled to no less than a life estate in the homestead.
- A surviving spouse has a right to a 30% elective share of the deceased spouse’s property.
- A surviving spouse has a right to a family allowance and exempt property.
These rights are significant, but there are important deadlines that must be followed. Surviving spouses must also be careful to avoid inadvertently waiving their rights. A Florida and Palm Beach County probate litigation lawyer can help you understand your rights and take the necessary steps to protect them.
Other Types of Probate Litigation Cases
Will contests, surviving spouse cases, and breach of fiduciary duty cases are the most common types of probate litigation cases we handle. However, you may have a case that involves one or more of the following claims:
- Creditor disputes
- Petition to Surcharge a Personal Representative
- Petition to Remove a Personal Representative
- Petition for Revocation of Probate
- Enforcement of Pre- or Postnuptial Agreements
An experienced and knowledgeable Florida and Palm Beach County probate litigation lawyer can review your case, identify your potential claims, and develop a strategy for obtaining a fair result.
Contact a Florida and Palm Beach County Probate Litigation Lawyer for Assistance
Probate litigation is never pleasant, but an attorney can help you navigate the process as smoothly as possible. If you’re involved in a probate or estate dispute, or are worried that you soon will be, contact the legal team at Comiter, Singer, Baseman & Braun either online or by calling us at 561-626-2101 or toll free at 800-226-1484 to discuss how we can help.