Florida Probate or Estate Litigation attorney Reed Bloodworth, managing partner of Bloodworth Law, PLLC, represents petitioners, respondents, creditors, curators, and non-parties in legal controversies over wills, estates, and probate. Reed handles will contests involving personal representatives, a beneficiary, heirs, and guardians, including:
Will Disputes: Beneficiaries challenging the validity of a will. Personal representatives with an obligation to defend the will.
Undue Influence: Improper influence over a person to change a will.
Lack of Capacity: Absence of mental capacity at time will was executed.
Tortious Interference with a Testamentary Expectancy: Questionable, detrimental interference with a will.
Fraud: Where testator was intentionally misled resulting in a will he/she otherwise would not have made.
Duress: The testator is forced to make will under threat of coercion or physical harm.
Accounting Actions: Assist beneficiaries petitioning the court for accountings of estate assets.
Personal Representative Misconduct/Breach of Fiduciary Duty: Prosecute claims on behalf of beneficiaries. Defend personal representatives against whom claims are made.
Personal Representative Removal/Breach of Fiduciary Duty: Beneficiaries wishing to remove a personal representative. Personal representatives defending against a removal action.
Lack of Execution Formalities: Challenges to whether a will was properly executed pursuant to Florida law.
Will Construction: Review of will to interpret ambiguous or conflicting language.
Surcharge Actions: Beneficiaries bringing surcharge claims against personal representatives. Personal representatives defending against surcharge claims.
Probate or Estate Litigation FAQs
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What is Probate Litigation? Probate is the formal process by which a decedent’s will is submitted to the court and authenticated. Meaning the court accepts, “yes, this is a will. It’s properly executed.”
Next, a personal representative is established overseen by the court because the personal representative gathers all of the decedent’s assets. The personal representative pays whatever debt remains, and disperses the decedent’s assets pursuant to the terms of the will.
Probate or estate litigation takes place within probate:
- Probate is a will or estate that is filed with the court.
- Someone petitions to be named the personal representative of the estate.
- The court says, “yes, you’re approved to be personal representative. Here are the documents approving you as personal representative.”
- Assets are gathered by personal representative.
- Assets are dispersed.
The same causes of action applicable in setting aside a will:
- Undue influence
- Lack of capacity
- Tortious interference with a testamentary expectancy
So you’re named the personal representative and the will or estate is open. Typically what would happen is that the personal representative sends out notice to all “interested persons.”
“Interested persons” have an interest in the estate or will and have 90 days to contest the will.
Here is where Probate Litigation Begins
Here is where most of my probate or estate litigation happens. The will is contested because there was undue influence or there was a lack of capacity, when it was executed, or tortious interference with a testamentary expectancy.
I see situations where a will or an estate is changed and where the beneficiary becomes someone else but it’s a different personal representative.
So in this context, the personal representative may not be the bad actor and they’re not going to be the primary target of a lawsuit, but they’re still going to be named in it because they’re the personal representative.
It’s a personal representative’s duty to defend the will, but you’re really going after the person who you believe you know unduly influenced the testator. So there’s different types of probate litigation.
You have the probate litigation against someone you believe improperly influenced the testator to get a bigger inheritance.
There’s a situation where you believe the personal representative is breaching their duties. You know they’re stealing from the estate or they’re just not conducting the probate properly.
There’s creditor litigation where someone dies. The probate’s opened. The personal representative sends out notice to all the creditors and the creditors file a claim against it.
Then, if the personal representative objects to that, there’s litigation pertaining to that particular claim of the creditor.
The Personal representative is the person approved by the court to carry out the probate procedure.
What is Probate?
Probate is the formal, court supervised, process whereby a person’s will is proven to be valid and complied with.
The first thing a personal representative does is seek to open the probate with the court by filing a petition for administration.
He or she will also file the decedent’s will and death certificate with the court.
Among the most important duties are:
- Serve the Notice of Administration on all of the beneficiaries, surviving spouse, and potentially other interested persons
- Gather all of the assets of the estate
- Determine all of the creditors of the decedent
- Settle debts with creditors
- Pay any owed estate taxes
- Distribute the remaining assets of the estate pursuant to the will
- Close the estate
These are the basic duties of a personal representative. It is important for a personal representative to remember that they are authorized to hire professional help. Accountants and lawyers are often crucial to helping a personal representative comply with their duties.
What is a Beneficiary?
A beneficiary is a person or entity designated in the will to receive money or other assets from the estate.
What does a Beneficiary do?
A beneficiary does not have an affirmative duty in the probate process. The personal representative bears the responsibility to move the probate forward.
However, there are things a beneficiary should do during probate, and a beneficiary does have certain rights.
What Should a Beneficiary Do in Probate?
First, what is probate? Probate is the formal, court supervised, process whereby a person’s will is proven to be valid and complied with.
- Stay apprised of what is happening within the probate.
- Review documents received relating to the probate in a timely fashion.
If a beneficiary has questions, then they should address them with the personal representative.
What Are Beneficiary Rights?
A beneficiary also has certain rights. For example, the beneficiary has the right to:
- Receive a copy of the will
- Receive an inventory of the estate’s assets
- Receive a copy of the estate tax return
- Know how much debt the estate has
- Know how the estate is paying for the debt
- Request ongoing reports from the personal representative during the course of the probate
Clients pay attorney fees after a case is completed, if and when it pays out.
Contingency fee means that the client pays legal fees when the lawyer and case brings in money from the legal actions taken. Reed immediately begins work on the case to pursue a legal action. Clients, meanwhile, are not billed, have to write a check, or pay by credit card to get a case moving. Every case is reviewed and there is no guarantee that it will qualify or be accepted as a contingency fee case, but you will find out by talking with Reed.
Contingency fee cases are available for business litigation, and for trust litigation and probate or estate litigation cases.