St. Petersburg Probate and Trust Litigation Lawyers
Probate is the judicial process where a deceased person’s will is entered into court and proved to be valid so that the person’s estate can be legally distributed according to the terms of the will. Like wills, trusts are another way to distribute property to beneficiaries after death, except that trusts are administered outside of the probate process. In either case, however, disputes can arise. For instance, a party might argue that the will or trust was not created properly and is invalid, or that the executor or trustee is abusing their powers or negligently failing to administer the estate properly. These disputes can tie up an estate for a lengthy period, preventing heirs and beneficiaries from receiving the inheritance that was intended for them, and causing strife among family members who disagree over how the estate should be divided.
The seasoned estate planning attorneys at Greene & Greene can help to resolve the most complex disputes efficiently and effectively. Our team has decades of experience finding creative solutions and resolving legal matters inside and outside of the courtrooms of Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties. If you find yourself embroiled in a will or trust dispute in the Tampa Bay Area, contact our experienced St. Petersburg probate and trust litigation lawyers for sound legal advice and professional representation to solve your legal dispute.
The word “probate” comes from a Latin word meaning “to prove,” demonstrating the purpose of probate to prove the validity of the will submitted to the court. Will contests can involve challenges to the validity of a will in many ways, including:
Wills must be created according to legal formalities regarding form, content, signatures, witnesses, etc. Wills that are not created correctly can be attacked as invalid.
Once a valid will is created, it can only be amended or revoked in certain ways for the amendment or revocation to be valid. People who change or cancel their wills without legal help often create confusion and fail to actually make the changes they intend.
When people make a new will, they might not have correctly canceled the old will, leading to the existence of multiple wills being submitted to probate. Litigation will be required to sort out which will, if any, is the true last will and testament that should be given effect in probate.
People might challenge the testator’s (will maker’s) mental capacity to make a will. These challenges are more common when people make or change a will when they are advanced in age or suffering from a serious health condition. Florida law requires a “sound mind” to create a valid will.
If a person changes their will to include people later in life who were not previously included, such as a family member or professional caretaker who has been acting as a caregiver, other heirs might raise the question of whether the testator was placed under undue influence to make changes to the will that the testator would not otherwise have wanted.
Other will contests include allegations that provisions in the will were the result of fraud, duress, coercion, or other improper conduct. Invalid will provisions can be stricken from the will or in some cases render the entire will invalid.
Like a will, a trust must also be created according to a set of legal formalities to be valid under Florida law. For example, a trust must be in writing and created for a lawful purpose; the trust must name beneficiaries who are either definitively named or ascertainable, and the trust cannot name the same person to be both the sole trustee and sole beneficiary. Like a will, trusts can also be contested based on allegations the settlor (trust maker) lacked the required mental capacity or was subjected to undue influence, fraud, duress or coercion.
Trust contests can also contain allegations that the trustee or other fiduciaries performing services to the trust have breached their fiduciary duties, such as by acting in their own self-interest instead of for the benefit of the beneficiaries, failing to provide trust accountings when required, or even misappropriating assets in the trust for their own use. Trust litigation can be used, for example, to invalidate a trust, remove and replace a trustee, force an accounting, or enforce the distribution of funds to beneficiaries.
Contact Greene & Greene Today
Probate and trust litigation can arise due to disputes in blended families when children from a previous marriage find themselves at odds with a step-parent or step-siblings. Other times, individuals who were not included or were cut out of a will might challenge that decision as unlawful or a mistake, or members of the same class of individuals – such as siblings – who are treated differently might argue that the disparate treatment was a mistake or due to fraud, duress or undue influence. There are countless ways wills and trusts can be challenged, but whatever issue arises, the seasoned estate planning attorneys at Greene & Greene have likely seen it before and dealt with it successfully. Get the help you need when dealing with a Florida will or trust contest. Contact our experienced St. Petersburg probate and trust litigation lawyers today.