What is Estate Litigation?

Estate litigation is the lawsuit brought forth to challenge the administration of an estate after the death of a loved one.  

What does an Estate Litigator do?

There are several different types of estate litigation cases. An Estate Litigator can review your case, determine what legal actions are necessary, and provide guidance on how to proceed. Estate Litigation cases can be complicated, and an Estate Litigator can help represent you in Court in challenging the estate administration.

Differences Between Estate Litigation and Estate Planning?

Estate planning occurs when an individual is still alive and can make decisions on where and to whom their assets will go after death. With estate planning, you can also plan for healthcare and financial decisions in case of incapacity. Essentially, estate planning involves planning for the management of your estate after your death or incapacitation.

Estate Litigation occurs when there is a dispute regarding the administration of an estate after an individual has died.

Types of Estate Litigation

  • Will Contests
  • Beneficiary Disputes  
  • Disputes Regarding Heirs
  • Breaches of Fiduciary Duty
  • Misconduct by an Executor or Administrator
  • Surviving Spouse Elections and Family Allowances 
  • Contested Guardianships

1. Will Contests

A Will contest is a dispute or proceeding brought to challenge the validity of a Will. The grounds for a Will contest include:

  1. Undue Influence
  2. Lack of Mental Capacity
  3. Improper Execution
  4. Fraud

2. Beneficiary designations

A beneficiary can be a person or trustee of a trust entitled to receive property, which includes real property, personal property, or proceeds from various accounts, under the terms of the Decedent’s Will. In many instances, financial assets do not pass through a Will and instead, pass through a beneficiary designation, right of survivorship, or transfer on death designation. Disputes regarding assets left to beneficiaries, either through a Will or other designation, can arise when there are allegations of forgery, fraud, undue influence, or lack of mental capacity resulting in the beneficiary being named.

3. Fiduciary Disputes

A “fiduciary” is an individual or entity that acts in the best interest of another. Executors, administrators, guardians, and trustees are all considered fiduciaries. In Texas, there are several statutory duties executors, administrators, guardians, and trustees are required to obey. Failure to comply with these laws can result in a breach, which creates potential liability for these individuals. Common fiduciary disputes involve claims of breach of fiduciary duty and fraud or misrepresentation by the fiduciary.

Common Law Spouse and its Relation to Estate Litigation

Texas is one of the few states that recognize common-law marriage. If the common law marriage is valid, then the common-law spouse will have the same rights as if they were legally married to the individual. Marital status plays a key role in determining the division of property after an individual’s death. In some cases, if a common-law spouse dies, the living spouse may be able to claim inheritance or even a family allowance.

What is Common Law Marriage in Texas?

A common law marriage is a union between two consenting adults who do not go through the formalities of obtaining a marriage license or having a formal ceremony.

In Texas, a common-law marriage exists when the couple:

  1. Has a present agreement to be married
  2. Is living together in Texas as husband and wife after the agreement
  3. Has represented to others that they are married

For a common-law marriage to exist, an individual must have the capacity to enter into the marriage. This means that both parties must be at least 18 years old and not currently married to another individual.