What Should You Know About Contested Estates?

 Posted on January 30, 2024 in Estate Planning

TX estate lawyerWhen a person passes away, their estate goes through probate, which is a court-supervised process of distributing assets. Usually, this goes smoothly, but sometimes beneficiaries or creditors dispute the will or trust. This can lead to a contested estate where different parties battle over the deceased’s property and assets. A Texas estate planning lawyer may be able to help if you find yourself in this situation.

What Triggers Estate Disputes

Several common issues tend to spur estate contests:

  • Unequal distribution of assets that seems unfair to heirs
  • Confusion over an ambiguous will or trust
  • Suspected incapacity or undue influence on the testator
  • Discovery of newer wills or amendments
  • Claims of improper asset transfers before death

If heirs believe the distribution is inequitable or the will or trust invalid, they may file lawsuits to contest all or part of the estate. Creditors also sometimes dispute estate plans if assets were transferred pre-death to avoid debts.

The Burdens of Proof

In Texas, those contesting a will must provide clear and convincing evidence to overcome the presumption that the testator had full mental capacity and free will when creating the estate plan. If you wish to contest aspects of a will, be prepared to meet this high standard of proof. You will also need to file the contest early, and in Texas, you normally must bring forward a lawsuit within two years of the will being admitted to probate.

The Costs of Estate Litigation

Contested estates often wind up with significant legal expenses as family members feud over the property. Lawyers get involved on all sides, filing motions and counterclaims related to the validity of the will and proposed distribution. Judges may have to hold hearings and trials to weigh all the evidence if a deal is not reached.

A contested estate also emotionally drains a family, as parties pay for legal representation out of their own share. Settlement talks may reduce costs, but they usually require compromise on both sides.

Seeking Mediation

Because trials are public, lengthy affairs, most parties want to avoid this outcome if possible. Many opt for private mediation instead, allowing an impartial third party to moderate negotiations between beneficiaries.

Mediation also gives heirs more control over dispute resolution, including keeping sensitive financial or personal details private. As it is less adversarial than court, it may also help rebuild trust and relationships afterward. If no agreement emerges, parties can still take the matter to probate court.

Contact a Fort Worth, TX Estate Planning Attorney

Meeting with a Fort Worth, TX estate planning lawyer is wise both for crafting your plan and going over preventative measures against any objections down the line. Doing so grants more peace of mind that your final wishes are carried out. Call Gonzalez Law, PLLC at 817-349-7330 for a free consultation to make sure your plan is solid.

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