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Wills, Trusts, and Estate Attorneys
In situations involving wills and trust funds, inheritance lawyers may be necessary to ensure that all paperwork is properly written up, documented and signed, and to ensure that the wishes of the person making up the document are properly followed. Even in situations of wills and trusts, there can be disagreements over the intentions behind the documents, leading to inheritance lawsuits and other legal issues. Cases involving guardianship, estate probate, power of attorney, lost wills or other disputes often require an experienced attorney.
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A will is a legal document that sets out a person's wishes for their property, assets and children when that person dies. Without a will, a person has no control over where their property goes upon death. An experienced wills and trusts lawyer can advise people who are writing up their will of all legal requirements involved in estate planning, such as probate laws.
Even with a will, there are situations in which family members and others dispute the legality of the documents. Such cases can result in inheritance lawsuits. Inheritance is the legal succession of a person's property, obligations and assets upon his or her death. In some situations a person may contest a will if that person feels he or she has been wrongly or illegally denied an inheritance.
A will contest arises when one or more parties contests the validity of a will. Specifically, that party argues that the will does not represent or reflect the actual intent of the person the will represents (the testator). For example, the contesting party could argue that the testator was subject to undue influence when writing the will or lacked the capacity to write the will. In cases of a will contest, the only parties who can usually contest the validity of a will are either the beneficiaries of the will or those who could inherit money or property if the will was declared invalid.
Reasons for contesting a will include lack of capacity, insane delusion, undue influence, fraud, duress and violations of state laws. A will can be contested if the testator was not capable of properly understanding what he or she is signing or who he or she is willing the assets to. That said, a testator could have signs of dementia but still be considered capable of signing a will.
Furthermore, if the testator was under undue influence or duress or a victim of fraud when filling out the will, the will may be found invalid. For example, if the testator had a caregiver threaten to withhold medicine or food until the caregiver was included in the will, and then consulted with the attorney on the testator's will, that could qualify as undue influence.
If the testator was tricked into signing a will, that will could be declared invalid for being fraudulent. Wills can also be contested if a more recent will, that was written and signed under appropriate circumstances, exists.
A trust is a right in property (real or personal) that is held in a fiduciary relationship by one party for the benefit of another. The trustee holds the title to the property on behalf of the beneficiary, who will receive the benefits of the trust. A trust fund is a separate legal entity that protects property and assets from probate and taxes. There are various types of trusts including revocable, irrevocable and testamentary trusts.
There can be issues with trusts, including issues with the trustee, who has a fiduciary duty to the beneficiary. Unfortunately, some trustees actually have a conflict of interest between their interests and the interests of the beneficiary. Cases involving trust disputes often involve allegations of breach of fiduciary duty or failure to protect the assets of the trust. Trustees cannot use the assets of the trust for their own benefit, they must also be impartial in their dealings with beneficiaries, act in good faith and be loyal to the trust agreement.
Contesting a Trust
Much like with a will, reasons for contesting a trust include lack of capacity, undue influence and fraud. If the person writing or signing the trust lacked the mental capacity to do so or was under undue influence, the trust could be invalidated. In the case of a trust, fraud could occur when the grantor believes the trust has been written to benefit one person but the trust is written so as to benefit another.
States have laws on how and when trusts and wills can be contested.
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Updated on Jan-15-14
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