Probate litigation in Texas refers to legal disputes that arise in connection with the administration of an estate through the probate process. The probate process is the legal process of distributing a person’s assets after they die, and it can be complicated by disagreements among heirs, challenges to the validity of the will, and disputes over the distribution of assets.
Common reasons for probate litigation in Texas include:
- Will contests. Beneficiaries or other interested parties may challenge the validity of a will, alleging that it was executed under duress or undue influence, or that the testator lacked the mental capacity to create the will.
- Disputes over distribution of assets. Heirs or beneficiaries may disagree over how assets should be distributed. This can arise when there are ambiguities or inconsistencies in the will or when they believe that they are entitled to a larger share of the estate.
- Breach of fiduciary duty. Executors and administrators have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the estate’s heirs or beneficiaries and to administer the estate according to the terms of the decedent’s will and applicable provisions of Texas law. If an executor or administrator breaches this duty by mismanaging estate assets or acting in their own self-interest, an interested person may file a lawsuit to hold them accountable for damages.
- Fraudulent transfers. Heirs and beneficiaries may allege that a transfer of assets made during a decedent’s lifetime was fraudulent and designed to deprive them of their rightful inheritance. Often, these transfers occur through the misuse of a power of attorney granted by the decedent to a third party prior to their death.
- Claims against the estate. Creditors or other claimants may assert a claim against the estate, alleging that they are owed money by the decedent or that the decedent’s actions caused them harm.
- Removal of an executor or administrator. An heir or beneficiary may request that a probate court remove an executor or administrator if they breach their fiduciary duties, engage in self-dealing, improperly manage estate assets, or fail to abide by the terms of the will or the provisions of the Texas Estates Code.
- Disputes related to heirship determinations. A person may contest an application to determine heirship because they were omitted from the application as an heir or that they are entitled to receive a greater share of the estate than that which is listed therein. These disputes often arise in cases where a contestant claims to be the common law spouse or equitably adopted child of the decedent.
Our Probate Litigators Have Zealously Advocated For Clients Throughout Texas
If you are involved in probate litigation in Texas, it is important to seek the assistance of an experienced probate litigation attorney. A skilled attorney can help you navigate the legal process and work to protect your interests.
The probate litigation process in Texas typically begins with filing a petition in court. The petition outlines the basis for the dispute and requests relief from the court, such as an order invalidating the disputed will, removing an executor, compelling an accounting of estate assets, or resolving disputes over the distribution of assets. The parties involved in the dispute will then have an opportunity to present evidence and argue their case in court.
In Texas, probate litigation is governed by the Texas Estates Code and other state laws. The Estates Code provides guidance on how estates should be administered and outlines the rights and responsibilities of executors, administrators, heirs, and beneficiaries. It also provides procedures for resolving disputes through court proceedings.
In some cases, alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation or arbitration may be used to resolve probate disputes outside of court. These methods can be less expensive and less time-consuming than going to court, and they can also allow the parties involved to maintain greater control over the outcome of the dispute.
Frequently Asked Questions About Probate Litigation
Probate litigation in Texas can be complex and time-consuming. It is important to seek the assistance of an experienced probate litigation attorney who can help you get answers to probate issues. Our team is here to answer your questions, and to get you started, here are some of the answers to questions our clients ask us the most:
How can I tell if there was undue influence in a will?
Undue influence means that a person may have manipulated a vulnerable person into altering their will. However, here are some signs that may indicate influence:
- The testator was isolated by the person who benefits from the will changes
- The testator disinherits close relations
- The testator expressed reluctance to the changes
- The changes were made without an attorney
Proving undue influence, especially if there is no evidence that the testator has a loss of mental capacity, is a major challenge.
Who can contest a will in Texas?
If you believe the will to be fraudulent in some way, you can pursue a will contest, provided you are “a person with an interest in the estate.” The law defines this as someone who is either a creditor or debtor to the estate, a close family member, a person who may have been previously willed something. The definition is intentionally broad to allow those invested in a person’s life to have a chance to pursue an inheritance they may deserve.
How can I tell if someone lacked testamentary capacity when their will was created?
The key point in any will contest or allegation of undue influence rests on the testator’s capacity to make decisions. This is a complex issue, and there is no one answer for every case. The declaration may hinge on the testimony of the deceased behavior at the time of any updates to the will, which may include:
- Erratic behavior
- Sudden changes in habits
- Giving up driving privileges
However, you must make a very compelling case to overturn a will that is properly executed. You will have to have significant irrefutable evidence. It is a challenge, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be done.