Most clients don’t anticipate litigation in the wake of a loved one’s death. Unfortunately, however, disputes and even crimes do occur during the probate process. Working with a litigation attorney from the start can ensure you’re well prepared if the unexpected occurs.
Estate Attorney vs. Litigation Attorney
First, let’s take a look at the role and responsibilities of an estate attorney. An estate attorney helps a client create their will, trust, and other aspects of their estate plan, such as advance care directives. Sometimes, after the decedent’s passing, they’ll work with the decedent’s personal representative (also known in some states as the executor) to close the estate. This includes:
- Filing the will with the court
- Creating an inventory of assets
- Paying final taxes
- Managing creditor claims
- Distributing inheritance to heirs
However, if disputes arise amongst beneficiaries or a crime occurs, a litigation attorney will be needed. In fact, an estate attorney will not take the case on if they do not manage litigation. A litigation attorney can not only handle the standard responsibilities of probate administration, but they can litigate on your behalf, as well.
For these reasons, whether you’re creating your estate plan or you’re an heir wondering why the personal representative has gone silent, it may be wise to work with a litigation estate attorney from the start.
Estate Litigation Is More Common Than You Think
Losing a loved one is overwhelming, and it’s all the more painful when conflicts arise in the midst of grief. In some cases, mediation is what’s needed – for example, if the decedent died without a will and there’s disagreements as to who should be the personal representative. A litigation attorney can serve as an objective voice to help bring resolution between parties.
However, we’ve worked with many clients who have been the victims of estate fraud and theft. These cases can be enormously distressing for victims, as the perpetrator is most likely a relative. We can help in identifying red flags, including:
- The validity of the will
- Signs of undue influence
- Signs of personal representative misconduct
- Fraudulent transfers before or after the decedent’s death
It’s important to note that while a litigation attorney can help find evidence of criminal activity – for example, by flagging suspicious activity in financial documents – their authority is solely over the management of the estate. A civil attorney cannot prosecute crimes.
A Litigation Attorney Can Help You Create a Discerning Estate Plan
A litigation attorney is not only a wise choice during probate – that same expertise can help in the estate planning phase, as well. Though not all conflicts can be prevented, an attorney with litigation experience can provide guidance in creating an estate plan that’s clear, aligned with the law, and secure. A litigation attorney understands potential risks, and can help you avoid potential vulnerabilities.
There are many steps you can take to strengthen the security of your estate plan. The first is drafting your documents with an experienced attorney who understands the many complexities of Florida estate law. Notarizing your estate documents can also add extra security, even the ones that don’t legally require it. And securely storing your will or trust can help keep it out of the hands of fraudsters.
Every probate case is unique, and our litigation experience can ensure you have full support throughout the entire process. If you’ve recently lost a loved one, we’re here to help.