Florida Will Contest & Disputes Attorneys
Fierce Litigators Serving Clients Throughout Florida
There are several grounds that a will can be challenged by a lawyer during a Florida probate proceeding. Whether the will has been formally admitted to probate will determine which pleadings should be filed. The Florida legislature has passed a law that prevents anyone from contesting a will before the death of the testator. However, in many instances, the beneficiaries, heirs, and other interested parties will not know the contents of a loved one’s will until after their death when the document is revealed as a part of the probate administration.
How Do I Contest a Will in Florida?
The party who wishes to contest a will must file a petition in the probate court where the will is being probated, and request that the court revoke or deem the will invalid due to undue influence, fraud, coercion, or other legal grounds. The estate and court will then be notified of your wish to contest the will, and the case will either settle or go through a hearing where a judge will decide on its validity.
Individuals who can contest a will include:
- Beneficiaries named in the current will
- Beneficiaries of a previous version of the will
- Individuals not named in the will but may have been eligible to inherit the estate due to intestacy laws
If you need assistance contesting or disputing a will, contact our attorneys at Adrian Philip Thomas, P.A. for help. We have extensive experience resolving will disputes and other estate and probate litigation matters.
Is There a Deadline for Contesting a Will?
According to Florida law, after a Notice of Administration is received by a potential claimant, that claimant has only 90 days to consider his options, accumulate the proper supporting documentation, hire an attorney, and file a formal lawsuit contesting the will. This time frame is shortened to 20 days if a Formal Notice of the Petition for Administration has been received before the will has been admitted into probate.
Contesting Execution Formalities
The initial consideration in evaluating a will contest case is whether the will was executed properly. It is much simpler and less expensive to attack a will on technical grounds than it is on grounds like undue influence or lack of capacity. The testator must be of sound mind and at least 18 years of age for a will to be valid in Florida.
If the testator was qualified to make the will, then the document itself needs to be examined to determine whether it was executed according to the following statutory formalities:
- A will must be in writing
- A will must be signed by the testator
- A testator must acknowledge signing (or directing another to sign) in the presence of two witnesses
- Two witnesses must sign in the presence of each other and of the testator
Florida courts have held wills to be invalid when the witnesses testified that they did not sign in the physical presence of each other.
Contesting a Will Over Undue Influence
The theory underlying an undue influence claim is that the testator’s mind was so controlled by persuasion, pressure, and outside influences that they did not act voluntarily and were instead subject to the will power of another individual when executing the last will and testament. The person challenging the will for undue influence has the burden to establish the presumption of undue influence, which can be met by showing that the undue influencer:
- Is a substantial beneficiary under the Will
- Occupied a confidential relationship with the decedent
- Was “active” in procuring the Will
Contesting a Will Over Lack of Testamentary Capacity
In 1953, the Florida Supreme Court held that being “of sound mind” meant the testator could generally understand the following:
- The nature and extent of their property
- The relationship of those who would be the natural objects of their bounty
- The practical effect of a will
Often testators have diminished mental capacity making them more susceptible to undue influence even if they do not totally lack capacity. Florida courts have held that weak mental and physical health of the settlor are factors to consider for undue influence claims. In fact, a mere inequality of mental acuity between the testator and the beneficiary has been found to be a contributing factor for undue influence.
Contesting a Will for Insane Delusion
Another form of incapacity is insane delusion. In Hooper v. Stokes, the Florida Supreme Court defined insane delusion as a “fixed false belief without hypothesis, having no foundation in reality.” Other Florida courts have expounded on this concept by adding that the fixed false belief must be persistently adhered to against all evidence and reason.
One of the most-often cited insane delusion cases in Florida is Miami Rescue Mission, Inc. v. Roberts. In it, the decedent executed a new will in 2005 while in the hospital with severe pain and under the influence of strong medication. She passed away the next day. The new will disinherited the caretaker and left the decedent’s estate to several charities. The caretaker asserted that the decedent was suffering from an insane delusion at the time the will was executed and that she thus lacked testamentary capacity. The decedent’s physicians testified regarding the medication that the decedent was taking and how it had changed her personality. A psychiatrist who saw the decedent opined that she was delusional when she stated that the caretaker had abandoned her and had killed her dog. On the contrary, witnesses and evidence supported the position that the caretaker visited the decedent in the hospital every day and the caretaker gave credible testimony that she was continuing to care for the dog. Accordingly, the court set aside the will as invalid based upon insane delusion.
Contesting a Will for Fraud
Under Florida law, a will is void if it is procured through fraud. Fraud defeats the testator’s wishes through deceit. There are four (4) general elements of fraud:
- False representations of material facts to the testator
- Knowledge by the perpetrator that the representations are false
- Intent that the representations be acted upon
- Resulting injury
There are two primary types of fraud:
- Fraud in the Execution: The testator was told the Will he signed was something other than a Will.
- Fraud in the Inducement: The testator is intentionally misled by a material fact which caused the testator to make a different device than he would otherwise have made.
How Can a Florida Will Contest Lawyer Help?
A will contest attorney in Florida acts as an invaluable ally for individuals seeking to safeguard their legacy. These legal professionals possess a deep understanding of the complexities of estate law, enabling them to provide informed advice and effective representation. Whether you are disputing a will's validity or defending against a contest, a skilled will contest lawyer can guide you through the intricate probate process, ensuring your interests are defended and your loved one’s true intentions upheld.
Services Offered by a Will Contest Lawyer:
- Estate planning consultations: A will contest attorney near you can provide advice on creating a robust estate plan that minimizes the chance of future disputes.
- Representation in will disputes: If a will is being contested, a will contest attorney can represent you in court, handling all legal proceedings on your behalf.
- Explanation of legal rights: A will contest lawyer can help you understand your legal rights and obligations under Florida's inheritance laws.
- Preparation of legal documents: They can assist in assembling and filing all necessary legal documents related to the will contest.
- Negotiation and Mediation support: A will contest lawyer near you can also negotiate with other parties involved in the dispute and represent your interests in mediation or settlement discussions.
- Advice on the probate process: They can guide you through the probate process, explaining each step along the way to ensure you're fully informed.
- Investigation of will’s validity: Your lawyer can help investigate the validity of the will, gathering evidence to support your case.
- Protection of assets: A will contest lawyer can help protect your estate's assets during the dispute, ensuring that property and other assets aren't wrongfully distributed.
Schedule a Complimentary Consultation Today
At Adrian Philip Thomas, P.A., we understand that estate litigation law is ever-developing in Florida, which is why we make great efforts to keep our legal professionals informed. Since 2002, our reputable legal team has represented thousands of clients in estate-related disputes, both prosecuting and defending. If you need help contesting a will in the state of Florida, please do not hesitate to call our firm so we can get started drafting a comprehensive legal strategy.
Jeff, please know how much I appreciated your hard work and effort representing me! Thank you for putting up with me and for never making me feel inept.- S.H.
I don't think there is a better way to express how we feel about these attorneys than to show our final message to them: Ryan & Adrian: We cannot adequately express our gratitude for your excellent work in the resolution of this matter. While certainly- MB & KB
Took the time to explain to me what was going on with my case in way that made sense. Would not hesitate to use him in the future.- F.S.
Adrian, Thanks, you’re doing a great job and you’re the best and only lawyer that has been ethical and professionally serious about this case. You have great communication skills as well. Thank you.- L.A.
Hi Michele, I appreciate all your help with my case and your professionalism. Jeff and Esther were extremely helpful, especially considering the difficult circumstances.- S.J.
Mr. Trinkler, Just want to say thank you for your time, kindness and help.- G.W.
Michele, Thank you. This speaks to the excellent work Mr. Thomas & yourself have done.
Hi Ryan, Thank you for all you have done. Truly feeling relief and a release, being free from lawsuit. Just wanted to tell you how much I depended on you, and appreciate all you have done.- E.D.