Georgia Probate & Estate Litigation | Family Disputes
Following the death of a family member or loved one, everyone hopes that property and assets can be distributed in an orderly fashion. In many cases though, there are intrafamily arguments and disputes about how this property should be disbursed. To best follow the wishes of the deceased, probate litigation seeks to resolve disagreements that arise during this complicated process. Looking for an attorney to represent you in an estate or probate dispute in Georgia? Contact the team at Fennell, Briasco & Associates™ for a FREE legal consultation.
Compassionate Representation When You Need It Most
The weeks and months following the death of a loved one are difficult. As you and your family adjust to a new life without this person, you are also stuck dealing with their estate—figuring out what to do with furniture, cars, bank accounts, real estate, and other assets that are no longer used by the deceased. For many Georgia residents, this is an intensely stressful and time-consuming process. Perhaps most stressful of all is that fact that family members don’t always agree on how estate property should be distributed. Siblings may disagree over who is entitled to certain financial assets, and grandchildren may squabble over inheritance rights. As lawyers get involved in the process, these family dynamics can grow tense.
At Fennell, Briasco & Associates™, your family story matters. We strive to represent every client with the highest degree of care and compassion. For families across the State of Georgia who are dealing with probate disputes, our mission is to work through these difficult conversations so that we can achieve a fair resolution for all parties involved. To guide you through the probate litigation process, contact us today at (770) 956-4030.
Common Probate Disputes in Georgia
When the estate of a deceased person enters probate, beneficiaries will receive a notice from the executor stating that they are entitled to certain assets under the deceased’s will. What happens when two beneficiaries argue over the same property? This is where probate litigation comes in, and each beneficiary can make their case for why they are entitled to such property. Because estate assets are limited, each party must carefully weigh the costs and benefits of fighting for certain inheritance rights or property rights.
In Georgia, common probate disputes might involve:
- Undue Influence: During the last few months of a person’s life, it is unfortunately common for long-lost family members, nurses and caretakers, or other third parties to attempt to insert themselves into a person’s will. If a party intentionally exerts undue influence over a testator (e., the drafter of a will) with the hope that they will be named as a beneficiary, then the will may be deemed partially or wholly invalid. You should always consult an attorney if you believe that the testator changed their will just before death to provide benefits to a new person or party.
- Lack of Testamentary Capacity: As individuals grow older, their cognitive abilities may decline. From dementia to Alzheimer’s disease, a person can slowly lose their grasp on what property they own and how it will be distributed after death. In these cases, an individual may modify their will even though they lack “testamentary capacity,” meaning that they do not have the adequate mental state to understand the effects of their will. In these cases, where the testator drafts or modifies a will during a period of cognitive deficiency, the will may be deemed invalid.
- Will Contests: What happens if a person’s will is unclear? There are many potential ambiguities that can arise in a will, leading to disputes among beneficiaries about the correct interpretation or construction of the will. For instance, what happens if some provisions of the will have been crossed out and replaced with handwritten text? Alternatively, what if there are two or more drafts of a will—which one is valid? To resolve drafting errors and ambiguities, a Georgia probate attorney will help you understand the testamentary intent of the will, so that the probate process can best meet the goals/wishes of the deceased.
- Mismanagement of Estate Property: Upon someone’s death, their estate must be preserved and properly managed so that it can rightfully pass through probate. In some cases though, family members may begin retrieving property in the immediate days after the death of a loved one. In these cases, estate property may be stolen, misused, or destroyed so that it cannot end up in the hands of the intended beneficiary. In these cases, the executor of the estate and the beneficiaries must work together to secure their rights in probate. Always consult an attorney if you believe that probate assets have been improperly withheld or managed during (or prior to) the probate process.
- Asset Valuation: When it comes to unique assets in a person’s estate, it can be difficult to determine the value of such property. Antiques, fine art, intellectual property rights, and business ownership interests can all be difficult to value. At the same time, a will might say that “each child is entitled to 1 piece of fine art.” In this example, how does the financial value of the art affect the gift to each child? When it comes to issues of estate valuation, the value of property is a big deal. When beneficiaries disagree about the value of property, a legal adviser can help you find a fair resolution for the determination of value.
- Executor Misconduct: The executor of an estate (sometimes called a “personal representative”) has a fiduciary responsibility to carry out the probate process on behalf of the estate’s beneficiaries. The executor has a fiduciary duty to comply with the following obligations: (i) accounting of the estate, (ii) initiating the probate process in a local probate court, (iii) avoidance of self-dealing transactions and improper gifts, (iv) preservation of the value of the estate, and (v) other responsibilities on behalf of the estate’s beneficiaries. If you believe that the executor is committing fraud or improperly handling the estate, you should immediately consult an attorney.
- Property No Longer Exists: Suppose that a testator states in their will that “my home at 1200 Westchester Lane will be given to my son, Hank.” What happens, though, if this property was sold several years ago? Does Hank still have any inheritance rights under the will? This complicated area of Georgia probate law is called “ademption,” which refers to testamentary gifts that are no longer part of the estate. If probate assets have been sold or disposed of prior to probate, you should discuss any potential inheritance rights with your attorney.
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