Contesting a Will in Florida: Understanding the Basics
The passing of a loved one is always a difficult time, which can become more complicated when there is a dispute over their will. If loved ones believe that the will may be invalid or unfair, there is a possibility that it can be legally contested in order to make this right. Like other states, Florida has a process for contesting wills which can oftentimes be complex and challenging to navigate.
Additionally, the process of contesting a will can involve significant emotions among family members and interested parties, making the process even more difficult for those trying to successfully navigate it. It is therefore critical to understand the basics before proceeding with this process. Many find it beneficial to work with an experienced attorney specializing in probate and estate law to ensure the best possible outcome.
Grounds for Contesting a Will in Florida
To begin with, in order for an individual to contest a will in Florida, they must be a beneficiary named in the current or previous versions of the will. In certain situations, individuals who are not named in the will may also contest a will if they are eligible to inherit the estate due to intestacy laws.
Once an individual is eligible for contesting a will, there are several grounds on which they can contest a will. These grounds include but are not limited to:
- Lack of capacity: This means that the person who created the will did not have the mental capacity to understand what they were doing at the time of signing the will. For example, if the person was suffering from dementia or another mental illness, they may not have had the mental capacity to create a valid will.
- Undue influence: This means that the person who created the will was pressured or coerced into making certain decisions. For example, if a caregiver or family member convinced the person to leave all their assets to them instead of distributing them fairly among all beneficiaries, this could be considered undue influence.
- Fraud or forgery: This means that the will was created through deceit or trickery, or that the person’s signature on the will was forged.
- Improper execution: This means that the will was not signed or witnessed correctly according to Florida law.
It should be noted that while a will can be legally contested under any of these grounds, it has the potential to be a difficult and costly process with no guarantee of success. Even if there is an absolutely justified reason for contesting a will, the cost of litigation should be weighed against the benefits that may come from winning in court.
How to Contest a Will in Florida
In order to contest a will in Florida, the party who wishes to contest must file a petition in the probate court where this will is being probated. During this they must request that the court revoke or deem the will invalid due to either fraud, undue influence, coercion or other legal grounds. Specifically, there are several steps that must be taken in order to contest a will:
- Hire an attorney: Contesting a will is a complex legal process, and it is important to have an experienced attorney on your side. Your attorney can help you determine whether you have a valid case and guide you through the process.
- File a petition: To contest a will in Florida, you will need to file a petition with the court. The petition should include the grounds on which you are contesting the will and any evidence you have to support your case.
- Serve notice: You will need to serve notice of the petition to all interested parties, including the executor of the will and all beneficiaries.
- Discovery: Both parties will engage in a process of discovery, where each side gathers evidence and information to support their case. This may include depositions, interrogatories, and requests for documents.
- Mediation: In Florida, the court may require the parties to attend mediation to try to reach a settlement before going to trial.
- Trial: If the parties are unable to reach a settlement, the case will go to trial. At trial, each side will present their case and the judge will make a decision.
Once a Will is Contested
If a will is contested in Florida, there is a possibility that the court may declare the will invalid or make changes to it. The assets of the estate will then be distributed according to Florida law, which may not be in line with the wishes of the deceased. Because of this, it is important to weigh the potential costs and benefits before proceeding.
Additionally, contesting a will can be an emotional process for all parties involved. Oftentimes, this can result in friction between family members and other interested parties, causing rifts between loved ones. It also has the potential to be a costly process depending on how long litigation lasts, with no guarantee of success. In some cases, it may be better to accept the will as it is and move on rather than risk damaging relationships and incurring legal fees.