Titusville Will Contest Attorney
When most people take the time to craft wills before they die, there is little expectation that people will challenge the wills but there ends up being many cases in Florida in which various people connected to decedents believe they have reasons to contest the wills. Anybody who believes they might have a valid reason for challenging a will should be sure they are working with a Titusville will contest lawyer so they can have the strongest chance of proving their case and getting their desired outcome.
In most cases, all possible beneficiaries do not know the contents of a will until it has been read as part of probate administration, and simple surprise at the contents of a will are not enough alone to file a challenge, but any suspicions about undue influence or other negative factors can be. Florida will only allow people to challenge wills for certain specified reasons, so anybody who wants to file a challenge to a will needs to be sure that they have the authorization to do so.
When Wills Can Be Contested in Florida
Florida Statute § 732.502 establishes that each will must be in writing and executed by having a testator sign the will at the end or have their name subscribed at the end of the will by some other person in the testator’s presence and by the testator’s direction. At least two witnesses must sign and acknowledge that the testator signed the will or another person subscribed the testator’s name to it.
Under Florida Statute § 732.505, a will or codicil, or any part of either, is revoked by a subsequent inconsistent will or codicil even when it does not expressly revoke all previous wills or codicils, but a revocation extends only as far as the inconsistency. A will can also be revoked by a subsequent will, codicil, or other writing executed with the same formalities required for the execution of wills declaring the revocation.
Florida Statute § 732.518 states that an action to contest the validity of all or part of a will or the revocation of all or part of a will cannot be commenced before the death of a testator. The only parties allowed to contest a will in Florida are people who are named beneficiaries in a current will, people who were named beneficiaries in a previous will, and people who are not named as beneficiaries in the will but stood to inherit some portion of the estate because of state intestacy laws.
People will only have a limited amount of time to contest a will, and the time limit is customarily 90 days after a notice of administration is received. When a formal notice of administration is received before a will is admitted to probate, then this time limit can be as short as 20 days.
Common Reasons for Challenging Wills in Florida
That wills are not being properly executed when they are created remains one of the most common reasons all people challenge wills in Florida. Issues can always arise when wills are not in writing, have not been signed by testators, were not signed in the presence of two witnesses, or witnesses did not sign in front of a testator.
Some wills can also involve affidavit of proof issues, which relate to procedures in which wills are signed in accordance with Florida statutes. There can be other reasons for challenging the validity of a will.
Lack of Testamentary Capacity
Any party arguing that undue influence occurred is claiming that a testator was inappropriately influenced to draft or amend their will in a way unfairly benefitting another party. A person can prove undue influence by demonstrating that a person asserting undue influence received some kind of substantial benefit from a will, a person asserting undue influence had a close and trusting relationship with the creator of the will, and a person asserting undue influence was in a position to influence the terms of the will.
Undue influence commonly occurs when beneficiaries isolate testators from their family members and are present during the execution of wills while possibly providing instructions to an attorney, but there can also be cases in which family members are cut out of wills, or beneficiaries have knowledge about the contents of a will before it is admitted to probate. While proof of undue influence typically must be unmistakable and convincing, the evidence is more often circumstantial since the perpetrator rarely commits their offenses in front of other people.
In re Estate of Carpenter, 253 So. 2d 697 (Fla. 1971) was a Supreme Court of Florida case in which the court ruled that undue influence can be assumed in cases in which a person benefits from a will, a person had a confidential relationship with a decedent, and a person was actively involved in procuring a will. The seven factors Carpenter established as a guide in undue influence cases are:
- The presence of a beneficiary when a will was being executed
- The presence of a beneficiary when a testator expressed a desire to formulate a new will
- The beneficiary recommending an attorney draw up a will
- The beneficiary knowing the contents of a will before it was executed
- The beneficiary giving the attorney specific instructions on will preparation
- The beneficiary securing witnesses to the will
- The beneficiary keeping the will safe until execution
There are three additional factors that Florida courts will look at when evaluating undue influence. Those factors are whether a testator was isolated from family members who can disagree with a will, whether there was any kind of mental disparity between a decedent and a beneficiary, and whether a will was reasonable.
Lack of Testamentary Capacity
Murrey v. Barnett National Bank of Jacksonville, 74 So. 2d 647 (Fla. 1954) was another Supreme Court of Florida case in which Margaret E. Blum executed three wills, and it was “well known that many of her age are not as vigorous mentally or physically as they are when younger, but even a lunatic may make a will or a sale of property in a lucid interval.” The court held that there was no showing that the disposition under the trust agreement was not fair and equitable.
Many Florida courts have held that a lack of testamentary cannot be solely attributed to such factors as old age, physical and memory failings, and shifting judgment. Courts instead presume testamentary capacity for testators, meaning that the burden of proving a lack of testamentary capacity is solely on the individual challenging a will.
There have been numerous Florida court cases dealing with insane delusion claims. In Hooper v. Stokes, 107 Fla. 607, 145 So. 855 (Fla. 1933), the Florida Supreme Court established that an insane delusion was a “fixed false belief without hypothesis, having no foundation in reality.”
Some 50 years later, the District Court of Appeal of Florida wrote in In re Estate of Edwards, 433 So. 2d 1349 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1983) that, “An insane delusion has been defined as a spontaneous conception and acceptance as a fact, of that which has no real existence except in imagination. The conception must be persistently adhered to against all evidence and reason.” Finally, Ethel Manucy executed a will in January 2005 during a time she was hospitalized with severe pain and under the influence of very strong medication, dying the following day in Miami Rescue Mission, Inc. v. Roberts, 943 So. 2d 274 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2006).
Manucy’s 2005 will disinherited her longtime caregiver and friend, Fair Ellen Roberts, and left her residuary estate in equal shares to four charities. Manucy’s attorney offered the 2005 will for probate, and Roberts petitioned the circuit court for revocation of the 2005 will from probate and for the administration of the previously executed 2003 will.
Roberts claimed that Manucy was suffering from an insane delusion at the time she executed her 2005 will, and she thus lacked requisite testamentary capacity. Roberts said Manucy’s delusion involved her continuing care of Manucy, her dog, and her finances, but Manucy believed Roberts had abandoned her, let her dog die, and was stealing from her.
A trial court ultimately determined Roberts’ position was supported by clear and convincing evidence and granted her petitions. The Third District Court of Appeal of Florida ruled the trial court correctly determined Manucy was suffering from an insane delusion regarding Roberts, and she executed her 2005 will based on this delusion, affirming the trial court’s order revoking the 2005 will from probate and submitting the 2003 will for probate administration.
Removal of a Beneficiary from the Estate
It is often possible for beneficiaries to be improperly removed from wills, which often leads to those beneficiaries challenging the wills. It will be illegal for another person to coerce a testator to remove a beneficiary from will for their own personal gain.
Fraud can relate to the execution of a will or to the inducement to create a will. A fraud claim usually involves false representations being made to a testator, another party knowing their representations are false, an intent that the representations be acted upon, and a resulting injury.
There are often concerns about whether the signature on a will is actually that of a testator, and a will is not valid when a signature cannot be guaranteed.
Call Us Today to Speak with a Titusville Will Contest Lawyer
Are you currently thinking that you may need to challenge a will in Florida but do not know how to go about doing it? You will want to be sure you speak to Upchurch Law as soon as possible to get complete guidance about what steps you can take to get answers.
Our firm is committed to helping people throughout the greater Titusville area and many surrounding areas of Florida with their estate planning needs. You can call (386) 272-7445 or contact us online to take advantage of a free consultation with our Titusville will contest lawyer.
Frequently Asked Questions About Will Contests
Do you need a lawyer to contest a will in Florida?
The most important part of challenging any will in Florida is having the legal standing to do so, meaning any person who is authorized to challenge a will can do so on their own. Proving the grounds for invalidating a will often requires sound legal arguments, so it is often best for anybody wanting to challenge a will to retain legal counsel. It is again important for people to understand that they can have very limited amounts of time in which to take action in these cases, so they should not delay in seeking legal representation. People who attempt to handle will challenges on their own can struggle to come up with the necessary documentation or other aspects of a case that a court is seeking, but working with an attorney will allow people to prepare for their court appearances fully and can prove the malfeasance that can invalidate a will. It can also be beneficial for people to retain legal counsel when they want to enforce a current will that is being challenged. An experienced lawyer will also know how to defend a will in court in these cases.
How much does it cost to contest a will in Florida?
It can be very difficult to establish a realistic range of prices for will contests in Florida because so many variables can impact the cost of seeking one of these cases. In general, most of these cases will cost several thousands of dollars because they can stretch out for several months or even years. For many people, the costs involved in challenging a will can be worth it because a successful challenge can mean obtaining property that is worth even more than what was paid. All people need to seriously evaluate their potential cases to determine whether a will challenge is really worth the effort, and an experienced attorney can help a person evaluate all of the possible assets and know whether a case will be worth pursuing.
How hard is it to contest a will in Florida?
It can be incredibly difficult to challenge wills in some cases but relatively easy in others. The basis for your reason to contest a will determines how difficult your case will be. Considering all of the reasons we outlined above, invalid wills can be among the easier claims to prove because there are usually concrete reasons as to why a will is legally invalid. A lack of testamentary capacity, on the other hand, will be far more challenging to prove to a court’s satisfaction because a party will have to demonstrate that there was some kind of undue influence on a testator. Insane delusions can also be more difficult to prove in court, and it can be difficult to prove beneficiaries were removed from prior wills in some cases, although there can be exceptions. Estate fraud and forgery cases may be somewhat easier to prove.
What are the most common reasons for contesting a will?
One of the most common reasons wills are challenged in Florida concerns the validity of the will. Wills can be declared invalid when they are not in writing, were not signed by testators, or were not signed in the presence of two witnesses, although wills can also be declared invalid because of multiple other kinds of claims. Undue influence or duress claims can be common when people believe that testators were unfairly influenced by other parties to modify their wills and remove beneficiaries. A lack of testamentary capacity can be another common kind of claim when people believe that a testator lacked the mental capacity to understand what they were signing. People should always be looking for signs of possible undue influence in will cases, such as testators making changes to beneficiaries that enrich certain individuals, inconsistent distributions of assets, property being given to people who are not natural heirs, caretakers moving in too closely with testators, and new wills being created.
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I have had the privilege of working with Mr. Upchurch on behalf of numerous shared clients over the years. Each and every client has always expressed to me their thankfulness that Thomas Upchurch was involved in their case.- Ron Z.
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