In an ideal world, every person’s will would be clearly drafted, interpreted, and honored. Every trust would be implemented and funded as written. Every beneficiary would have their rights respected. And all parties would act in good faith. In the real world, wills and trusts give rise to any number of controversies due to competing interests, ambiguities, and dishonest intentions. In probate litigation, there may be more at stake than just assets. Your family legacy may be on the line.
The attorneys at Davis, Davis & Associates, understand that you and your loved ones are dealing with emotionally-charged issues that can have life-altering consequences. Our seasoned probate litigation attorneys have extensive experience successfully representing clients in probate proceedings in the probate and circuit courts of Mobile and Baldwin County.
What is Probate Litigation?
The term “probate” translates from a Latin term meaning “to prove a will.” The purpose of the probate process is to ensure that the distribution of a decedent’s estate is done properly, which is why it is done with the supervision of the courts. The probate process varies depending on whether a person dies with or without a will and other factors.
Passing away without a will often leads to a much more lengthy and complicated process. However, estate planning alone is not a guarantee that there won’t be issues down the road. In fact, disputes often arise related to perceived inequities regarding the division of assets or who should act as a designated representative. These disputes can result in lengthy legal battles.
Proper estate planning is a vital part of avoiding probate litigation. Failure to have clear directions in place that are in legal form can lead to misunderstandings and the need for litigation. A person doesn’t need to be deceased to become involved in probate litigation. A lack of capacity to make sound decisions or communicate can start the process.
When someone is no longer able to communicate their wishes, important financial and health care decisions still need to be made. If the incapacitated person didn’t previously appoint a decision maker, the courts can step in and make these decisions.
For financial matters, the proceeding is a conservatorship, and for medical and personal care matters, it is called a guardianship. These are both appoints made by a probate court, and these are processes for which the experienced probate attorneys at Davis, Davis & Associates can provide guidance and assistance for you and your loved ones.
Disputes During Estate Administration
The administration of probate is meant to go smoothly. In many cases, there are no questions as to the title of assets or the identity of beneficiaries. However, sometimes these and other aspects of the estate are challenged by heirs, creditors, or others.
Will contests take place when someone raises an issue as to how assets are distributed, the beneficiaries or administrators listed, or other matters either spelled out or missing from the document. There are several common grounds for contesting a will in Alabama.
- Formality in execution.According to Alabama law (Ala. Code § 43-8-131), a will is only valid if it is in writing, signed by the testator or some other person in their presence and at their direction, and lawfully witnessed by at least two people. If any of these failed to occur, the will could be considered invalid.
- Testamentary capacity. Code § 43-8-130 requires that the testator be at least 18 years of age and of sound mind. Testamentary capacity refers to several requirements including a basic understanding of the matter in which the testator is engaged and knowledge of the objects referred to in the documents. Lack of testamentary capacity can be used to challenge a will, alleging that the person didn’t know what they were signing due to mental illness, dementia, or being in a medicated state.
- Undue influence. Probably the most common reason for contesting a will is undue influence. This refers to a spouse, sibling, or even a caregiver convincing the testator to change their will to their benefit and the detriment of others. Other than for certain limited relationships and circumstances, for a case to be successful there must be some evidence of persuasion or coercion that the testator could not resist.
- Fraud or other. Wills can also be contested based on the grounds of fraud or misrepresentation. For example, a false will is filed with a forged or coerced signature. Another example is a case in which one or more people choose to deprive other heirs of their rightful inheritance. Any grounds for fraud, however, must be specific in nature and are not as common as the other means to challenge these documents.
Trust contests can be similar to will contests. A well-crafted trust can ease the distribution of assets to the intended beneficiaries. But there can also be disputes about the decedent’s intentions. The same issues can arise, such as the trust not being properly executed, lack of capacity, or undue influence. There can also be allegations of breach of fiduciary duty or accounting issues with a trust.
Other areas of probate litigation that we handle include:
- Misappropriation of property
- Abuse by guardians
- Probate fraud
- Business succession
- Valuation and disposition of assets
- Evaluation of trustee impartiality
- Tax controversies involving estates, guardianships, and trusts
- Probate appeals
Our probate litigation practice has handled matters involving modest estates as well as those with substantial assets. When necessary, we retain experts such as forensic accountants, CPAs, economists, and other professionals. In any of the abovementioned areas of probate litigation, we are equipped to advise any party involved.
Speak with an Experienced Alabama Probate Litigation Attorney
Matters involving living probate and estate administration can result in disputes or become contested. While these are unfortunate and messy, the attorneys at Davis, Davis & Associates are here to help you navigate these stormy waters. Our goal is to resolve disputes as efficiently, effectively, and sensitively as possible, but we are ready and able to conduct extensive litigation activities whenever necessary.
At Davis, Davis & Associates, we understand that probate litigation can involve emotional disputes among family members. While we want to respect family dynamics and preserve delicate relationships, our primary focus is on protecting your rights and financial future. To discuss your legal concerns related to a probate matter, contact our office at 251-621-1555 to schedule your initial consultation. You may also send us a message through our online contact form.
At the law office of Davis, Davis & Associates, we represent clients serving all of Mobile and Baldwin Counties.
Daphne AL 36526-5300
Phone: (251) 621-1555
Fax: (251) 621-1520