In a recent article, we wrote about scenarios that frequently lead to probate litigation. Of course, we realize you don’t want to make sure your heirs turn to litigation, but quite the opposite. Being aware of potential problems, however, lets you plan accordingly to minimize or eliminate disputes between your heirs when it’s time to probate your will. In this article, we’ll discuss a few more of those problematic situations that often lead to probate litigation.
Pitting family members against each other from the outset
You may have excellent reasons for leaving Junior – or some other relative – out of your last will and testament, but your reasons won’t necessarily keep Junior from challenging the will and forcing your estate into probate litigation. If your will is properly drafted, your disgruntled heir is very likely to lose in the end, but litigation costs money. In addition to the attorneys fees and other expenses, litigation will delay the distribution of assets in the estate to the intended heirs.
Another ticking time bomb is when one sibling is appointed as trustee over another sibling’s trust. Things may go smoothly for a while, but sibling rivalry is bound to surface eventually. When it does, the probate court will have to sort things out and possibly terminate the trust.
Write your own will or addendum
This minefield nearly goes without saying, but we would be remiss if we didn’t point out the reasons you should not rely on canned or do-it-yourself legal documents. Prepackaged, fill-in-the blank wills may be intended for general use, but wills, trusts, and estates are a matter of state law. Sure, some portions of the probate code have been standardized by many states, but no two states’ laws are exactly the same. Do-it-yourself forms may not properly conform to Texas law and there isn’t much you can do to fix it after you’re gone.
The worst part is this – if you used do-it-yourself forms, you probably waived any right your heirs may have had to sue the publisher if the estate doesn’t work out the way you intended.
Addendums, known as codicils in probate terms, are another potential problem area. In Texas, a handwritten codicil must be properly executed by the deceased and may only dispose of personal effects. All instructions as to other estate property in a handwritten codicil are invalid. That may not sound like much of a problem in and of itself, but if the terms of your codicil contradict the terms in your will, the heir left out because the codicil was invalid may elect to litigate the issue in probate court.
Schedule a meeting to review your estate plan
In any of these scenarios apply to you, schedule a meeting to review your estate plan soon. At Peterson Law Group, our experienced probate attorneys identify potential problems and recommend solutions. Or, if you are an heir facing probate litigation, we are prepared to step in at any phase of the proceedings. To schedule a consultation, call us today at 979-703-7014 or visit us online for more information and to sign up for our newsletter.