Wills, Trusts and Probate Litigation

Have you been robbed of your rightful inheritance?  Were you disinherited because someone influenced your loved one into cutting you out?  Is the family trust being mishandled, and the money squandered? Did your spouse leave his or her entire assets to children from a first marriage? Can you challenge your father’s will if he left everything to his new young wife? Did your parent disinherit you years ago and forget to change his or her will after you reconciled?

Whenever death and money are involved, things can get messy. Still, you have the right to fight back through probate or trust litigation. If you are the beneficiary of a will or trust, and you have questions about your rights, a dedicated will and trust attorney at Buckman & Buckman, P.A., can conduct an immediate estate litigation case review for you.

We have a deep background in working through complex estate planning and estate litigation matters. Our attorneys know how to handle the challenging disputes that often arise when inheritances are involved.

As a family-run business, we treat our clients like family. An attorney from Buckman & Buckman will work directly with you from start to finish. This is just how we do business.

If you are facing a difficult estate dispute and need help, contact us today and find out more about your possible legal options.

Understanding Florida Probate Law

To understand how different types of will and trust disputes arise, you should understand how probate administration works in Florida. Here are answers to a few questions you may have about the process:

What is an estate?

An estate is a separate legal entity. When someone dies, everything they personally owned at death becomes a part of their “estate.”  To make sure debts are paid, and creditors get their money, Florida law will treat an estate just like it would any other other legal entity. Whatever is left in the estate must then be distributed to heirs, depending on how the deceased person, or “decedent,” set things up.

What is probate?

Probate is often treated like a dirty word. This is because people have the misconception that it is always a bad or expensive thing to deal with after a loved one’s death. In truth, probate is nothing more than a court proceeding through which debts get paid and assets collected. The process can be as simple as signing a few pieces of paper and making a single court appearance or as complicated as going through a five-year-long battle.

What is part of the probate estate?

Think of three separate buckets. A person’s estate gets distributed in those buckets. One bucket holds assets that go to named beneficiaries, one holds assets that have been put into a trust and one holds individually owned assets. Let’s take a closer look at each of these “buckets.”

  • Beneficiary designations – Lots of assets are easy to handle without ever needing probate. For instance, life insurance policies, 401(k) plans and many bank accounts will have one or more named beneficiaries. When you pass away, the asset goes automatically to that person, per your contract with the insurance company, investment company or bank. The same is true of certain real estate if it is held in joint-tenancy. None of these assets become a part of your probate estate.
  • Trusts – When you put something in a trust, it is no longer is yours. Instead, it belongs to the trust. You can name someone – called a “trustee” – to manage the trust. The assets in the trust generally are not part of your probate estate. The trust is separate.
  • Individually owned assets – If you own something, and there is no contractual or trust designation, it will likely pass into your probate estate, which acts sort of like a catch-all “bucket.”

Do all estates require probate?

After accounting for all exempt assets, if an estate has $75,000 or less in total value, then you may be able to use a process called summary administration. You can also use this process if the decedent has been dead more than two years.

Can a trust help you to avoid probate?

As you can see from the above description, a well-crafted and properly managed trust can avoid a lot of headaches – especially with high-value estates. By placing assets into a trust, you remove them from your own estate. When you pass away, your trustee will act on your wishes and carry out the trust’s instructions, without needing to go to court or file public documents.

What are spousal rights?

Under Florida law, if a person leaves a spouse out of his or her will or tries to give the spouse less than a predetermined statutory percentage, the spouse can invoke the right to collect his or her “elective share.” This elective share amounts to 30 percent of the elective estate. If you suspect that your spouse attempted to disinherit you, then you should consult an experienced attorney who can assess the potential benefit of exercising your rights under Florida’s elective share rule.

Will Contests

The most common estate dispute that our estate litigation attorneys handle at Buckman & Buckman involves fights over the validity of a will. A will may be invalid for many different reasons. Those reasons include:

  • Undue influence
    A will must represent the actual intentions of the person who signed it. If someone exercised strong control over the person at the time of the signing of the will, then the will may be deemed to be invalid because it no longer represents that person’s wishes. “Red flags” indicating possible undue influence include situations where the beneficiary:

    • Benefits most from the new will
    • Recommends a specific lawyer to create or change the estate plan
    • Gives the attorney instructions on how to create or change the estate plan
    • Knows what the will or trust says before your loved one is deceased
    • Arranges for certain witnesses to be present at the execution of the will.

Just because these elements exist doesn’t mean undue influence has happened. However, they are legal warning signs that should force the beneficiary to explain his or her actions.

  • Lack of mental capacity
    A valid will must have a clause which states that the testator (person making the will) was of sound mind and memory (or similar language), which indicates that the person knew what he or she was doing. If the person suffered from severe mental impairment at the time of execution, it may be grounds for disputing a will.
  • Fraud
    Sadly, some unscrupulous family members or others may forge documents or have financial planners or other non-attorneys help them to prepare documents that are fraudulent and unlawful from their inception.
  • Technical grounds
    Sometimes, contesting a will can be as straightforward as showing that there was no witness, or that other technical formalities were not observed.

Since 1998, attorneys Amiee Buckman and Drake Buckman have helped clients to pursue will contests in the Sarasota and Manatee communities.  If you believe that you have grounds to challenge the validity of your loved one’s will, or if you believe that you are being subjected to a wrongful will contest, contact us for guidance. We will conduct a thorough review of your case and help you to pursue all your legal options.

Other Probate Litigation Cases

Litigation in a probate court can involve many other types of disputes. In addition to will contests, our estate litigation attorneys help clients with matters that include:

  • Breach of fiduciary duty – A fiduciary is someone who owes a duty to act in someone else’s best interests. Sometimes, an executor mishandles the estate, costing the estate (and heirs) a lot of money.
  • Financial exploitation – There have been countless cases of guardians and executors financially exploiting disabled or elderly people and financially taking advantage of the living through unlawful or dishonest conduct.

When you discuss your case with the Buckmans in a confidential consultation, we will closely listen to you and determine the legal issues that your case presents. We are well-equipped to handle all types of disputes in Florida probate courts.

Mr. Buckman is a highly-skilled Professional who expedited my case efficiently and effectively. He was ethical, knowledgeable, patient and thorough from start to finish. I could not have asked for anything more! — Lisa

Trust Litigation

Trust litigation happens when there is a challenge to how assets are handled or how a trust is created. Many trust disputes involve a breach of fiduciary duty by the trustee. For instance, a case may involve evidence that a trustee used trust assets for personal gain, failed to pay debts or otherwise failed to properly manage the trust.

Generally, trustees, beneficiaries, or anyone who has an interest in the trust can file a lawsuit to challenge it. Often, this means spouses, siblings, children, step-children and other possible beneficiaries disagree about the trust and bring the lawsuit before a judge in a court other than probate court.

At Buckman & Buckman, our legal team has the experience, knowledge and resources to handle even the most complex trust disputes. We will work tirelessly to navigate the challenges that your case presents and pursue the best possible outcome for you and your loved ones.

Get Help from Our Sarasota Will, Trust, and Probate Litigation Attorneys

At Buckman & Buckman, P.A., we pride ourselves on taking a measured and strategic approach to estate litigation cases. We understand that these cases involve families, and as a result, they can be emotionally charged. We offer a calm and comprehensive consultation so that we can get to know the situation better and find out what matters most to our clients.

Contact us today to schedule your private consultation and get the guidance and representation that you need during this difficult time.

Estate Litigation

$1.6 Million

Estate Litigation Settlement

Estate Litigation settlement stemming from wrongful procurement of a will and breach of fiduciary duty by the personal representative of an estate.

Estate Litigation

$300,000

Estate Litigation Settlement

Settlement against a trustee and personal representative who attempted to defraud the beneficiary of a will from her rightful inheritance.

More verdicts and settlements

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