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Written by Thomas Upchurch
When you’ve lost a loved one, conflict with family members or the personal representative of the estate is the last thing you need. Unfortunately, conflicts in estate or trust administration are not uncommon. A handful of specific issues give rise to most estate litigation in Florida.
In Florida, a will can only be contested for specific reasons. Some of the most common grounds for a will contest include:
A trust contest is similar to a will contest, in that an interested party asserts that the trust was either not properly created or was created under circumstances that do not reflect the free and knowing choice of the grantor.
The personal representative of an estate or trustee of a trust has an obligation to manage the estate or trust responsibly and for the good of the beneficiaries. Estate litigation based on breach of fiduciary duty may arise when the personal representative or trustee acts in his or her own interest rather than that of the beneficiaries, or when he or she acts irresponsibly, failing to protect the assets.
In connection with the fiduciary duties of a personal representative or trustee, there are certain obligations to account. For example, a trustee must in most situations provide an annual accounting of trust assets and distributions. Similarly, the personal representative of an estate is called upon to provide an accounting of the sale of assets and other estate transactions. Failure to provide this information when required may give rise to estate litigation, either alone or in combination with an allegation of breach of fiduciary duty.
Few estate-related issues are more personal and emotional than the guardianship of minor children in the wake of the death of their parents. Litigation over guardianship may arise when no guardian has been appointed, and two or more family members each believe that they are the most appropriate guardian for the children. Occasionally, guardianship may be the subject of litigation even when the parents’ wishes were made clear in a will or other estate document.
No one who is planning his or her estate wants to think about loved ones doing battle. However, careful consideration during the estate planning phase may help to minimize the likelihood that heirs will clash in the emotionally charged period after the testator’s death. If you are creating a will or trust, or are otherwise engaged in estate planning, talk with your attorney about how you can reduce the likelihood of conflict.
Estate litigation is often based on technical requirements, and can be complicated and confusing. In addition, the emotional and personal aspects of estate litigation can make it very difficult for parties to conduct negotiations among themselves. If you are considering initiating estate litigation or have received notice that another interested party will be contesting the will or otherwise challenging disposition of the estate, your next step should be to schedule a consultation with an experienced estate litigator or call us directly at (386) 320-6169.