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.