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The death of a South Florida resident or property owner begins the legal process called probate.
Legal issues will be the last thing on your mind if you have recently lost a loved one. Probate, however, is a necessary step on the path to closure.
Under ideal circumstances, a decedent’s Last Will and Testament spells out clear, unconflicted asset succession that proceeds without complication. But conflicts between heirs, creditors, and other interested parties are common. There could be no will, an unclear will, challenges to the will or a trust, unpaid debts, beneficiaries who claim that the will unfairly—or illegally—leaves them out, and many other issues that cast a shadow over probate.
To make probate as efficient as possible, Florida law mandates that the personal representative of a decedent’s estate hire a probate attorney. Hiring a Florida probate attorney is also highly recommended if you wish to file a claim in probate court seeking your share of a decedent’s estate.
Probate—and often, probate litigation—cannot always be avoided. If you are involved in a dispute over and estate or trust, you should hire a West Palm Beach probate attorney to make the proceedings as smooth and fair as possible.
The Business Trial Group’s West Palm Beach probate attorneys represent parties with estate and trust claims on a contingency-fee basis throughout South Florida. No matter how complex the matter, you pay no up-front fees or retainer, and we receive no fees unless and until we make a recovery in your case.
Discuss your legal questions concerning an estate or trust with our Palm Beach probate lawyers during a free initial case review.
West Palm Beach Probate Administration Attorneys
Probate administration is the process of settling a decedent’s estate.
An estate is a legal entity that is created when someone passes away. The estate contains a decedent’s assets—including property, bank and retirement accounts, trusts, and life insurance proceeds—as well as their debt obligations.
Florida probate administration takes place in probate court in the county where the decedent resided or owned property. If the decedent lived in West Palm Beach, Delray Beach, Boca Raton, Palm Beach Gardens, or Boca Raton for example, probate proceedings would be held in the Probate Division of Florida’s 15th Judicial Circuit. There are also probate courts in Martin, Saint Lucie, and Indian River counties.
If you are named in a decedent’s will as the estate administrator, you should hire a Palm Beach estate lawyer to guide you through the probate process.
Only those assets that are solely owned by the decedent at the time of death, as well as assets that do not have a designated beneficiary, must go through probate. And when the decedent has been dead for more than two years, or the estate is worth less than $75,000, the estate can go through an abbreviated probate process.
Simple estates with few probate assets can be settled in a matter of weeks. Complex estates, however, may require months or even years of probate.
Factors that can complicate probate include:
- The decedent left no will
- Creditor claim disputes
- A disinherited surviving spouse who asserts their right to a share of the estate
- The personal representative is unable or unwilling to serve
- The estate contains a large number of assets
- Assets, such as a business, that must be managed or sold
- More than one competing will
- An estate beneficiary cannot be located
The many nuances of probate are why the personal estate representative should hire a local probate attorney. Even if the decedent resided outside of Florida but owned property in the state, Florida probate is necessary.
Personal representatives of a Palm Beach estate, surviving spouses, creditors, beneficiaries, and other interested parties who need probate representation or have questions about an estate or will should contact the Business Trial Group for a free case review.
West Palm Beach Probate Litigation Attorneys
Interested parties can file a probate lawsuit seeking what they believe to be their share of a decedent’s estate. The interested party could be a named beneficiary or someone who was left out of the decedent’s will, but believes their omission was unjust. Creditor probate claims may also be litigated.
Palm Beach probate lawsuits typically allege some type of wrongdoing, such as a violation of Florida probate laws, elder abuse laws, or the breach of a fiduciary duty. The end result of probate litigation could be to invalidate or amend a will, appoint a new estate representative, or award compensation.
Because each estate dispute is different, you are encouraged to discuss your Palm Beach probate litigation matter with the Business Trial Group.
West Palm Beach Estate Lawsuits
Common types of Palm Beach probate litigation include:
Improper will execution: Will lawsuits often allege that the will was not property drafted, signed, or witnessed in accordance with Florida law, or that the person who created the will lacked the mental capacity to do so.
Undue influence: Another common will contest claim alleges that the person who created the will was inappropriately and substantially influenced by a beneficiary who was close to the decedent and active in procuring the will. An undue influence lawsuit makes the argument that because of outside influence, the decedent’s will does not honestly reflect their wishes.
Will construction: The will could be constructed in a way that is unclear or incomplete, leaving doubt as to how assets should be disposed.
Rights of heirs and surviving spouses: If the decedent left no will, the court determines the estate heirs. Previously unacknowledged heirs may also wish to make a claim on the estate. The surviving spouse of a Florida decedent is generally entitled to a 30% share of the decedent’s estate, even if the will does not leave assets to them.
Breach of fiduciary duty: The personal representative of a Palm Beach estate has a duty to act in the best interests of estate beneficiaries. This includes properly administering the estate and not incurring excessive administration costs. A representative who does not uphold their fiduciary duty can be removed and/or ordered to pay damages.
Elder financial abuse: Someone in a position of trust—including a court-appointed guardian—could financially exploit an elder for self-gain, and at the expense of estate beneficiaries. Florida law provides for the recovery of punitive damages and attorneys’ fees in Palm Beach elder financial exploitation lawsuits.
Power of attorney abuse: A power of attorney allows a specified individual to make legal decision on another’s behalf. An elder may grant a power of attorney to someone for the purpose of handling the elder’s financial affairs, but the person entrusted with this power can abuse their authority through actions such as self-dealing, embezzlement, and unlawful gifting.
Estate planning malpractice: The attorney responsible for drafting a decedent’s will must adhere to professional standards. Attorney errors in planning or executing a will could be grounds for an estate planning malpractice lawsuit in Palm Beach.
If you have questions or concerns about a potential Palm Beach probate lawsuit, please contact us to learn your legal rights and options.
West Palm Beach Trust Attorneys
A trust is a financial instrument that allows a third party—known as the trustee—to hold and manage assets on behalf of a beneficiary or beneficiaries.
Placing assets in a trust as part of an estate plan can eliminate the need to put those assets through probate. Beneficiaries and other interested parties, however, may take issue with the trust, in whole or in part, and file a claim seeking damages and/or changes to the trust.
Trust disputes are usually handled in civil court, rather than probate court. The party or parties filing a trust lawsuit should hire an experienced Palm Beach trust lawyer to represent them in the matter.
Types of West Palm Beach Trust Lawsuits
The grounds for a trust dispute are similar to the grounds for a will dispute. They include:
Breach of the trustee’s fiduciary duty, due to the trustee mismanaging the trust, not following trust terms, self-dealing, failing to keep proper administration records, and not providing a full accounting to beneficiaries.
Challenging the trust’s validity, by arguing that the person who made the trust was mentally unfit do so, unduly influenced, or that the trust does not comply with Florida law.
Trust clarification, when the trust contains ambiguous, confusing, or contradictory language.
Parties who commonly file a lawsuit in Palm Beach regarding a trust or trustee include beneficiaries and those who believe they were wrongly not named as trust beneficiaries.
Possible remedies of a trust lawsuit include as award of monetary damages, modification, reformation, or dissolution of the trust, or removal of the trustee. These remedies may also be applied without court involvement if the parties can come to an agreement.
Beneficiaries and trustees who have questions or concerns about a trust should contact our West Palm Beach trust attorneys.
Contingency-Fee Probate and Trust Attorneys in West Palm Beach
The Business Trial Group’s trust and probate lawyers handle estate and will lawsuits on a contingency-fee basis in Palm Beach County, Martin County, Indian River County, Saint Lucie County, and throughout South Florida. So whether you are in Boca Raton, Delray Beach, West Palm Beach, Palm Beach Gardens, Jupiter, Tequesta, Stuart, or Vero Beach, we can help. No matter how complex your claim is, you will never pay up-front fees, and you will pay nothing unless we win your case.
Discuss your probate and trust dispute with our Palm Beach estate lawyers during a no-cost, no-obligation case review.