What is Estate Litigation?
Estate litigation is the lawsuit brought forth to challenge the administration of an estate after the death of a loved one. Under the estate litigation umbrella, there are specific issues that parties can litigate. For example, inheritance litigation involves any disputes over the decedent’s assets. An heir or beneficiary can take legal action against the estate’s executor or administrator over issues like the validity of the decedent’s will or missing assets. An heir who believes they were overlooked can also file suit to determine who are the rightful heirs and beneficiaries of the estate. These are just a few examples of estate-related issues that might end up in front of a judge.
If you need an estate litigation attorney in Austin, Texas, don’t hesitate to contact Robbins Estate Law today.
What does an Estate Litigator do?
There are several different types of estate litigation cases. An Estate Litigator can review your case, determine what legal actions are necessary, and provide guidance on how to proceed. Estate Litigation cases can be complicated, and an Estate Litigator can help represent you in Court in challenging the estate administration.
Differences Between Estate Litigation and Estate Planning?
Estate planning occurs when an individual is still alive and can make decisions on where and to whom their assets will go after death. With estate planning, you can also plan for healthcare and financial decisions in case of incapacity. Essentially, estate planning involves planning for the management of your estate after your death or incapacitation.
Estate Litigation occurs when there is a dispute regarding the administration of an estate after an individual has died.
Types of Estate Litigation
- Will Contests
- Beneficiary Disputes
- Disputes Regarding Heirs
- Breaches of Fiduciary Duty
- Misconduct by an Executor or Administrator
- Surviving Spouse Elections and Family Allowances
- Contested Guardianships
- Real Estate Claims
1. Will Contests
A Will contest is a dispute or proceeding brought to challenge the validity of a Will. The grounds for a Will contest include:
- Undue Influence
- Lack of Mental Capacity
- Improper Execution
2. Beneficiary designations
A beneficiary can be a person or trustee of a trust entitled to receive property, which includes real property, personal property, or proceeds from various accounts, under the terms of the Decedent’s Will. In many instances, financial assets do not pass through a Will and instead, pass through a beneficiary designation, right of survivorship, or transfer on death designation. Disputes regarding assets left to beneficiaries, either through a Will or other designation, can arise when there are allegations of forgery, fraud, undue influence, or lack of mental capacity resulting in the beneficiary being named.
3. Fiduciary Disputes
A “fiduciary” is an individual or entity that acts in the best interest of another. Executors, administrators, guardians, and trustees are all considered fiduciaries. In Texas, there are several statutory duties executors, administrators, guardians, and trustees are required to obey. Failure to comply with these laws can result in a breach, which creates potential liability for these individuals. Common fiduciary disputes involve claims of breach of fiduciary duty and fraud or misrepresentation by the fiduciary.
4. Real Estate Claims
If an estate’s assets include real property, this may give rise to real estate litigation. Real estate litigation involves the world of property law and includes any dispute arising out of an interest in real property—whether commercial or residential in nature. Estate beneficiaries, creditors, and business partners of the decedent are all parties that may seek real estate litigation. Here are some common disputes that give rise to this type of litigation.
Multiple parties may claim an ownership interest in a piece of property. By filing an action to quiet title, the court determines who is the legal owner of the real estate.
When a person dies, the lender still has the right to be paid. So if no one assumes the decedent’s mortgage, the lender will foreclose on the home.
The decedent may have knowingly or unknowingly been encroaching on a neighbor’s property. Once the neighbor discovers this fact, they may wish to determine the legal property line.
Common Law Spouse and its Relation to Estate Litigation
Texas is one of the few states that recognize common-law marriage. If the common law marriage is valid, then the common-law spouse will have the same rights as if they were legally married to the individual. Marital status plays a key role in determining the division of property after an individual’s death. In some cases, if a common-law spouse dies, the living spouse may be able to claim inheritance or even a family allowance.
What is Common Law Marriage in Texas?
A common law marriage is a union between two consenting adults who do not go through the formalities of obtaining a marriage license or having a formal ceremony.
In Texas, a common-law marriage exists when the couple:
- Has a present agreement to be married
- Is living together in Texas as husband and wife after the agreement
- Has represented to others that they are married
For a common-law marriage to exist, an individual must have the capacity to enter into the marriage. This means that both parties must be at least 18 years old and not currently married to another individual.
What Is Trust Litigation?
Trust litigation encompasses any dispute over a trust and is brought between beneficiaries and trustees. Some examples of legal disputes that give rise to trust litigation include:
- Allegations that the grantor—the person who created the trust—lacked the mental capacity to create the trust;
- The beneficiary believes they are not getting the appropriate amount of trust assets; and
- The trustee is breaching their fiduciary duty in some way (e.g., excessive compensation, mismanaging trust assets, co-mingling funds, self-dealing, etc.).
At Robbins Estate Law, we have experience representing beneficiaries in pursuing claims. We also represent trustees in defending their trust-related actions.
Frequently Asked Questions About Estate Litigation
What Kind of Estate Issues Can You Litigate?
Estate litigation encompasses a variety of disputes. For example, you can litigate anything from challenging the validity of the decedent’s will to questioning the executor’s actions to the amount of estate taxes you have to pay.
Who Can File a Claim Against the Estate?
Anyone with a potential right or interest in the estate or the decedent’s trust can commence estate litigation. This includes someone with evidence showing that they were improperly excluded from the decedent’s will or trust.
What are the Typical Outcomes of Estate Litigation Cases?
Typical outcomes of estate litigation cases can vary widely. Common results include:
- Upholding or challenging the legitimacy of wills or trusts.
- Adjusting estate arrangements.
- Settling disputes between heirs.
- Financial redress for misconduct.
Often, these cases may conclude through settlements or mediation, leading to agreements outside of court decisions.
How Long Do You Have to Bring a Claim?
If you are challenging the will, you have two years from the date the will is admitted to probate to file a claim.
How Can One Prepare for an Estate Litigation Process?
First, gather all relevant documents, such as the will, trust agreements, and correspondence. It’s also essential to consult with an experienced estate litigation attorney who can guide the legal process and represent your interests. Preparing a detailed account of events and maintaining clear communication with your attorney are vital steps to navigate an estate litigation case effectively.
Are There Alternative Dispute Resolution Options Available in Estate Litigation?
Yes, alternative dispute resolution (ADR) options are available in estate litigation. These options include mediation, where a neutral third-party mediator helps the disputing parties reach a mutual agreement, and arbitration, where an arbitrator makes a binding decision after hearing both sides. ADR methods can be less confrontational and more cost-effective than traditional court proceedings, offering a private and potentially faster way to resolve estate disputes.
How Does Estate Litigation Differ in Cases Involving Common-Law Marriages?
In cases involving common law marriages, estate litigation can differ due to the unique legal recognition of these relationships. Additional proof may be required to establish the existence of a common-law marriage, as these are not formalized through traditional marriage documents. This can affect claims to an estate, as the surviving partner must demonstrate the validity of the marriage according to state-specific criteria. Estate litigation in these scenarios often focuses on proving the legitimacy of the common-law marriage before addressing typical estate disputes.
What are the Common Challenges Faced in Trust Litigation?
Common challenges in trust litigation often include disputes over the interpretation of trust language, conflicts among beneficiaries regarding the distribution of assets, and questions about the trustee’s actions or management of the trust. Additionally, proving allegations of undue influence or breach of fiduciary duty by the trustee can be complex. These challenges require careful navigation of legal standards and evidence to resolve disputes within the trust framework effectively.
How Much Does It Cost to Hire an Estate Litigation Attorney?
Attorney’s fees depend on different factors, such as the case’s complexity, the size of the estate, what assets are involved, and court fees. Give us a call or reach out to us online to discuss this further.