Estate Litigation: Yet Another Reason You Need a Will

At Ford + Bergner LLP, we stand ready to help you through the most difficult contested probate matters, but we sometimes like to step back and remind you some controversies can be avoided through simple planning.

A decision last month from the 5th District appeals court illustrates the point.

Melvin Don Jones died in 2013 at the age of 66, a resident of Dallas County. He had never married and he had no children. His parents were dead. He had no will.

Two of the decedent’s siblings petitioned the court to determine that they and a third, half-sibling were his only heirs. The court appointed an attorney ad litem to represent possible unknown heirs. She reported that the decedent also had two more sisters, another brother, and a half-sister. All of these had died, but three of them had children who were still living.

The court heard testimony from one of the petitioners, the widower of one of the deceased sisters, and a longtime neighbor of the decedent, and entered judgment determining the heirs who should inherit the decedent’s estate.

It was only at this point that the widower of yet another individual said to be related in some way to the decedent stepped forward. He did not ask the trial court to reopen the case, but instead filed an appeal to the 5th District appeals court.

The appeals court determined the appellant had no standing to appeal the trial court’s judgment, as he had offered no evidence to indicate his deceased wife was related to the decedent.

The case is In the Matter of the Estate of Melvin Don Jones, decided March 18, 2016.

The point we want to make here is that this entire situation could have been avoided had the decedent left a will indicating who should receive his property after his death.

If you find yourself in a dispute concerning a decedent’s estate, or if you would like to talk about proper planning to prevent disputes from arising, please contact us.

Why It’s Important for Young Couples to Consider Estate Planning

Many young couples choose to hold off on estate planning because they feel they are too young to worry about estate planning and death. Maybe it’s because they think they don’t have enough assets to begin an estate plan or they just don’t want to think about death and what may happen to their minor children. However, having minor children is reason enough to being the estate planning process. And being young and healthy is not a “get out of jail free” card when it comes to death, as accidents can happen at any time.

If you have minor children, you should consider initiating the estate planning process immediately. While it’s not the easiest topic to discuss, it’s one of the most important things you can do for your family. The estate planning process is not too difficult, and it helps to be prepared before you start. The process is much easier when you know what is expected of you:

  • Name a trusted individual to be the executor of your estate.
  • Appoint someone to be the guardian of your children. It helps to have a successor guardian in the event your first choice cannot serve.
  • Provide adequate instructions on how assets are distributed.
  • Appoint someone as trustee if you plan to leave assets to your minor children. This person will manage the inheritance until the children reach the age of majority.

Consider hiring a financial and estate planning expert to help you through the process. As your family grows and you acquire more assets, you can always add and change the estate plan as needed. The important thing is you’re ensuring that family members won’t have to look to the court to oversee the distribution of the assets, or determine the children’s guardians. Contact us today to start this important process.

7 Guardianship Litigation Tips

Assuming legal guardianship is an important aspect of protecting loved ones.

For legal guardians who are new to the process, understanding  guardianship litigation is one of the most daunting tasks of the entire process.

To help you understand the litigation process better, here are seven tips for learning your role as a guardian.

1. File all your necessary paperwork on time and accurately. This includes all paperwork that needs to be filed annually or monthly.

2. Always keep detailed records of all interactions, payments, assets, and money received on behalf of your ward.

3. Consider creating a separate bank account for your ward’s money. Process all money through their account so that accurate and proper records can be kept.

4. If you have to leave town for an extended period of time, consider hiring a standby guardian to handle your ward’s needs while you are away.

5. Ensure that your ward retains the right to vote (if they are of age) and has regular medical and dental visits.

6. Use a separate account for all purchases made for your ward. If you can, use the account that you set up for them.

7. If your guardianship lasts long enough, you may have to get a new background check. Speak to your attorney about the specifics of this process to get it right.

If you need help with your guardianship, it’s best to work with an attorney. A guardianship attorney can help this process run smooth and without worry.

We can help you with all aspects of the family litigation process. Please contact us today for more information on our services.

Ford + Bergner LLP provides one of the most comprehensive estate planning, probate and guardianship practices throughout Texas, with offices in Houston and Dallas.

Eight Common Reasons for Estate Litigation in Texas

When a loved one has died, you want their estate to be administered in accordance with both their wishes and with the law. Unfortunately, things don’t always go according to plan; for those situations, it may be appropriate and necessary to initiate a will contest or other estate litigation.

The most common reasons for initiating estate litigation in Texas include the following:

1. Demands for accountings. Texas law says that interested parties have the legal right to obtain accountings of estate assets from the independent executor, any time in the 15 months after independent estate administration begins. If the accounting is not provided within 60 days of the request, the requestor can file suit to demand the accounting.

2. Lack of capacity. Sometimes, loved ones have questions about whether the decedent had the legal and mental capacity to sign a will or other estate document.

3. Undue influence. If the decedent did have mental capacity to create a will or codicil but there are concerns that a family member, a caregiver or anyone else improperly coerced the decedent to sign the document(s), estate litigation may be appropriate.

4. Breach of fiduciary duty. Executors and administrators must act in a fiduciary capacity, acting in the best interest of the estate and its beneficiaries. Sometimes there are concerns that a fiduciary is acting in his or her own best interest, or is otherwise mis-managing or improperly handling an estate.

5. Removal/replacement of administrators and executors. In addition to concerns about fiduciary duty, mismanagement of the estate or failure to provide accountings, administrators and executors may need to be replaced because of their own incapacity.

6. Conflicting wills. Different family members or other beneficiaries may produce different documents, claiming that they each hold the official last will. Estate litigation can help clarify issues that arise with conflicting wills, and may address allegations of fraud or forgery.

7. Legal defects. There are legal formalities that must be followed in order for a will to be legal under state law; if these have not been followed, estate litigation may be necessary to determine whether a will is legally valid.

8. Heirship determinations. Estate litigation may be necessary to identify and locate heirs to an estate.

 

If you have questions about the administration of a loved one’s estate, hiring an attorney with experience in estate litigation is an important first step to protect your rights under the law. To learn more, contact us today.