Pylant Estate Law, LLC

Estate Litigation

Estate Litigation · Huntsville Estate Law Attorney

Estate litigation in Alabama can be a complex area of law that deals with disputes arising from the administration of estates. It is not uncommon for beneficiaries, heirs, or other interested parties to challenge the distribution of assets or contest the validity of a will. When such disputes arise, it is important to have the guidance of an Alabama estate attorney.

What are some of the most common probate disputes:

  • Disputes between beneficiaries and the Personal Representative with regard to the misuse, conversion, fraud or theft of assets
  • A Personal Representative who refuses or is unreasonably slow in closing an estate and distributing assets
  • Disputes between a spouse and children (sometimes from a prior marriage) regarding estate assets or property
  • Dispute about whether a particular asset is included in the probate estate
  • Disputes where assets were transferred before death using a power of attorney or where property passes by virtue of a payable on death designation or beneficiary designation
  • A Personal Representative who refuses to provide an inventory or accounting
  • Modification or termination of an irrevocable trust

Types of Estate and Probate litigation in Alabama:

  • Will Contests - Will contests arises when someone challenges the validity of a will, argues that the will was not executed properly, was executed using undue influence, was executed fraudulently, or that the Testator lacked testamentary capacity. A will contests can be filed in probate court before the will is admitted to probate, or in circuit court within six months from the date the will was admitted to probate.
    • In Terrorem or No-Contest Clauses - An In Terrorem or no-contest clause is a clause in a Will that states if a beneficiary contests the Will, the contestant forfeits their interest in the estate. In adding an in terrorem clause to a Will, the Testator intends to prevent estate disputes.
  • Trust Litigation - Another area of estate litigation in Alabama is trust litigation. A trust is a legal arrangement in which one person (the trustee) holds and manages assets for the benefit of another person (the beneficiary). Trusts are often used as a way to avoid probate and to provide for the orderly distribution of assets after death. However, disputes can arise when beneficiaries or trustees disagree over the management or distribution of assets. Trust litigation can be complex, as it often involves the interpretation of complex legal documents and fiduciary duties.
  • Breach of Fiduciary Duty – Personal Representatives, Agents under a Power of Attorney, and Trustees have a legal obligation to act in the reasonable best interests of the beneficiaries. This is known as a fiduciary duty. If the Personal Representative or Trustee fails to fulfill this duty, it may be possible to bring a lawsuit for breach of fiduciary duty.
  • Interpretation of a Will or Trust - Disputes may arise over the interpretation of the terms of the will or trust. For example, there may be disagreement over who is entitled to receive distributions from the will or trust or how the assets should be managed.
  • Trust Modification or Termination - In some cases, the beneficiaries or trustee may wish to modify or terminate the trust. In some instances, this can be accomplished without court intervention; in other cases, a circuit court action is required.
  • Disputes Over Distribution of Assets - Disputes may arise over the distribution of assets in an estate. For example, if assets are missing or wrongfully distributed, if there aren’t enough assets to cover the debts of the estate, or if there are competing claims to assets, disputes may arise over how the assets should be distributed.
  • Claims Against the Estate - Creditors or other parties may file claims against the estate, seeking payment for debts or other obligations. Disputes can arise over the validity or amount of these claims.
  • Guardianship and Conservatorship Disputes - Disputes may arise over the appointment or actions of a guardian or conservator for an incapacitated person. These disputes can involve questions about the person's capacity, the actions of the guardian or conservator, or the best interests of the incapacitated person.

Resolving Estate Disputes in Alabama

Estate disputes are often resolved in one of the following ways:
  • Mediation - Mediation is a process in which a neutral third party helps the parties to reach a mutually acceptable agreement. This is often the first step in the estate dispute process.
  • Arbitration - Arbitration is a process in which a neutral third party makes a legally binding decision on the disputed issues.
  • Litigation – While parties should usually attempt to resolve their issues in mediation, if they are unable to do so, courts must do so.

Seeking Input from the Court

When parties are genuinely torn on which direction to go in an estate dispute, they may petition the Probate Court for instructions. Ala. Code 43-2-834. This can be enormously useful in resolving actions to be taken by the Personal Representative, interpretation of a Will, elective shares, statutory exemptions, final settlement, creditor claims, etc. Seeking input by the Probate Court is a great way for the Personal Representative to protect himself or herself from future litigation.

Alabama’s Wrongful Death Statute

Alabama’s wrongful death statute is unique in that all damages are punitive and only the Personal Representative of the Estate can file a wrongful death action. This means that if a loved one died as a result of someone else’s negligence, the family must have a Personal Representative appointed by the Probate Court, even if the estate otherwise does not require probate. In another unique twist, wrongful death proceeds are distributed to the heirs at law according to the Alabama statute of intestacy (not the beneficiaries listed in the Will). In other words, the Decedent’s heirs at law receive the wrongful death proceeds – even if they did not receive anything under the Decedent’s Will.

Probate litigation can arise in a variety of contexts in Alabama, each with its own set of legal issues and procedures. Disputes can be emotionally charged and can quickly become contentious. If you are involved in a probate dispute, it is essential to work with an experienced probate litigation attorney to protect your rights and interests. Your attorney can help you understand your legal options and work to resolve the dispute in the most efficient and effective way possible.

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