Estate Planning Attorneys in Dothan, Alabama
When a loved one passes away, the assets within their estate must be distributed according to their wishes and in accordance with Alabama state laws. In a perfect world, this process would be carried out smoothly, all parties would act in good faith, and the rights of all stakeholders would be respected. Unfortunately, it does not always play out this way in the real world.
The process of settling an estate is wrought with potential pitfalls. Wills and trusts are sometimes vaguely worded, leaving them open to disputes and legal challenges. In other cases, an executor/personal representative may act dishonestly, giving rise to conflicts allegations against the executor among those who have been wronged. When there are family disputes over significant property and assets, the only way to resolve these issues may be through trust and estate litigation.
At Smith Law Firm, Attorneys at Law, we have extensive experience successfully representing Alabama clients with estate and trust litigation and all other estate-related legal matters. Our lawyers have in-depth knowledge of this area of the law, and we help clients skillfully navigate the complexities of the estate litigation process.
We understand that when there are family conflicts over substantial amounts of money, emotions can run high and there is often the need to balance the preservation of delicate relationships with the need to protect your interests. We work closely with our clients, taking the time to listen and understand their unique needs and concerns, and exploring every potential legal avenue toward securing a positive outcome.
This may mean negotiating a settlement without the need for costly and protracted litigation, and this is most often the desired outcome. That said, if the other party is not willing to be reasonable, we are ready and able to aggressively pursue your legal rights and interests at trial and upon appeal.
Common Probate Administration Disputes
Probate is the court-appointed process by which the final affairs of a decedent are carried out. Whether someone died with or without a will, most types of assets will have to go through probate before they are passed on to the appropriate beneficiaries. There are some assets that do not go through probate, such as assets with a “payable on death” or “transfer on death” designation, jointly-owned property with right of survivorship, and assets that are held within a trust.
Unfortunately, probate is not always a smooth and straightforward process. Disputes can arise over a number of issues. Some of the most common issues that may result in probate litigation include:
Will Contests: A challenge to a will often occurs when a party who has potential interest is disinherited or does not believe they are receiving the inheritance they are entitled to. In order for someone to successfully contest the validity of a will, there must be a strong legal basis for the claim. Some possible reasons for contesting a will may include undue influence (e.g., the testator was coerced or created the will under duress), mental incapacity (e.g., the testator was not of sound mind at the time the will was made), invalid execution (e.g., the will was not witnessed by at least two people who do not have an interest), and fraud/misrepresentation.
Contested Guardianships/Conservatorships: A person who is appointed by the probate court to make healthcare and other non-monetary decisions for a minor or incapacitated person is known as a guardian, and a person appointed to manage the property of a minor or incapacitated person is known as a conservator. Disputes over guardianship and conservatorship appointments can often result in probate litigation.
Business Succession Disputes: Lack of a clear business succession plan can lead to bitter family conflicts, with various family members demanding a larger stake in the business. The best way to handle this situation is to implement a comprehensive plan ahead of time. In the absence of a business succession plan, however, estate litigation may be the only way to obtain an acceptable resolution.
Breaches of Fiduciary Duty: During the administration of an estate, the executor has various legal duties that must be carried out; such as giving notice to creditors, paying the debts of the estate, gathering/liquidating the assets of the estate, distributing those assets to the appropriate beneficiaries, and closing the estate. If an executor violates any of these duties in a way that shortchanges one of the beneficiaries, estate litigation may be the only way to obtain appropriate legal relief.
A trust is a financial instrument that is often created for the purpose of holding assets and passing them directly to the beneficiaries (of the trust) without the need for probate. There are many different types of trusts that serve various other purposes as well.
Trust disputes arise for the same types of reasons as with will contests and other estate-related disputes. A trust may be contested over lack of testamentary capacity, undue influence, improper execution, and fraud. Legal actions may also arise over trust accounting issues (e.g., what was done with all the assets, and where did they go?) and allegations of breach of fiduciary duty.
Trust and estate disputes can get very complicated, and they often involve financial issues that require extensive investigations. There are also unique legal issues and standards with trust and estate litigation that are not present with many other types of litigation. Be sure to work with an attorney who thoroughly understands these types of cases, has adequate trial experience, and has the willingness to litigate your case (when necessary).
Call our Alabama Trust and Estate Litigation Today
Trust and estate disputes can get very messy, and if you are involved in this situation, you need strong legal counsel in your corner advocating forcefully to protect your interests. At Smith Law Firm, Attorneys at Law, we are ready to go to work for you. We can meet with you to discuss your case and advise you of your legal options, so you can make the most informed decision on how you wish to proceed.
For a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys, call our office today at 334-702-1744, or contact us by filling out our online contact form. You may also stop into our Dothan office for assistance.