When someone passes away, administering the estate is necessary to distribute assets, pay debts and taxes, and fulfill the deceased’s final wishes.
It is not uncommon for disputes to arise during probate. Only an interested party, such as a spouse, heir, or devisee, can dispute an estate in probate. Doing so is not always a simple or straightforward process, however, and it is crucial to hire an experienced probate litigation attorney to represent you and your interests. Below are the most common reasons for disputing a probated estate:
Contesting the Validity of a Will
An interested person is the only party eligible to challenge the probate of a will. An interested person includes:
- Any entity or individual with a claim against the estate or a property right
There must be grounds to contest a will in Texas, such as:
- Improper execution – The testator does not execute their will properly if they don’t sign it and/or don’t sign it in front of two witnesses.
- Fraud – A beneficiary, executor, or another person engages in fraud by using threats to force the testator to sign their will, misrepresenting information to accomplish execution or modification of the will, and other fraudulent acts.
- Undue influence – Undue influence means a person in a position to benefit from the will influences the testator to create or make changes to the will.
- Lack of testamentary capacity – Lack of testamentary capacity means the testator is not of sound mind and doesn’t understand their actions while creating and signing a will.
- Mistake – Various mistakes can occur that deem a will invalid, such as an error regarding certain terms in the will and the testator mistakenly signing a will, thinking it’s a different type of document.
Texas Estates Code § 256.204 allows a two-year timeframe from the date a will enters probate to file a will contest.
Breach of Fiduciary Duty
The executor or administrator of an estate has a fiduciary duty to fulfill their responsibilities while administering an estate. A breach of fiduciary duty occurs when this person places their interests above the estate and beneficiaries’ interests.
Litigation might be necessary to hold the executor liable and recover compensation. The most common types of breach of fiduciary duty include:
- Using estate assets for personal gain
- Withholding the property from heirs and designated beneficiaries
- Misappropriating assets held in trust
- Unnecessarily delaying administering the estate
- Commingling estate funds with personal funds
- Engaging in acts of fraud
Creditor Claim Disputes
A creditor can file legal action against a deceased person’s estate if that person has debts at the time of death. Disputes can arise for multiple reasons, including:
- The amount pursued by the creditor is incorrect
- The filed claim did not meet the required deadline under state law
- The claim includes expenses the creditor is not entitled to receive, such as specific late fees or interest
- Disagreement over whether the executor of the estate notified the creditor of administration
- Priority of payments from the estate
- Dispute of partial or whole disallowance of a claim by the creditor
Hargrave Law, PC, has provided top-notch legal representation to clients in Bedford and Grapevine, TX, since 1999. We have extensive experience handling probate disputes and other estate administration matters and will be ready to stand up for you. Call us at (817) 282-0679 for a confidential consultation with a Texas probate litigation lawyer.