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Dallas Estate Litigation Lawyers

The Dallas estate litigation lawyers of Staubus and Randall are prepared to help you if you are dissatisfied with how the estate was administered when someone close to you has passed away.

There are many reasons why you might be dissatisfied with the way your loved one’s estate was handled. Even if they left behind a will, it is possible that it did not truly reflect their final wishes. It is also possible that funds or assets were incorrectly distributed, or there may be an issue with how the executor or administrator handled the estate.

Our knowledgeable estate litigation lawyers have represented many heirs, beneficiaries, family members, executors, and administrators across Texas. If you feel that you need to challenge your loved one’s estate administration, we’ll be ready to put our skills and experience to work for you.

Contact us at 214-691-3411 or reach out online for a confidential case evaluation with us today.

How Our Estate Litigation Attorneys Can Help

When a person dies, the surviving family members and those who were close to them are thrust into a challenging situation. While you would like to take the time you need to grieve and cope with the loss of their love and companionship, there are also countless legal matters that need to be resolved.

Often, the mix of money and family can create a combustible situation. Disputes over estate administration are common, particularly when there is a substantial amount of money in question or when family conflict arises.

Estate administration is a complex process, regardless of the circumstances. In many instances, the deceased will have left behind a will outlining their final wishes. Before the will can be executed, however, it must go through a process called probate. Some heirs may find the probate process to be confusing, frustrating, or unfair, and a skilled estate litigation lawyer may need to step in to help resolve these issues.

You have two years to challenge a will in Texas. Before a will can be binding, a court will have to determine that it is valid. If the court determines that it isn’t valid, then estate property will be distributed according to Texas law.

At Staubus and Randall, our Dallas estate litigation lawyers have extensive experience helping people like you resolve estate administration disputes. We will use all the tools at our disposal to help resolve the situation, from informal means that will save you time and money, to aggressive litigation when necessary.

Common Types of Estate Administration Disputes

There are a wide range of issues that could potentially arise during the probate process. If you are a representative charged with administering the estate, you might face threats or unfair claims from surviving family members of the deceased. If you are an heir or beneficiary, you might need to challenge the validity of the will or take action against the executor of the estate to get what you’re rightfully owed.

Some of the most common types of estate administration disputes include:

Contesting a Will – If you believe that a will is invalid, Texas law allows you to contest it. You will have to plead the grounds on which you’re challenging it, which could include:

  • Fraud
  • Mistake
  • Improper execution
  • Undue influence
  • Lack of testamentary capacity
  • Revocation

You could contest a will before it has been probated by the court or afterward. Before it has been admitted to probate, the burden will fall on the proponent of the will to prove that it is valid. After the will has been admitted to probate, the burden will fall on the contestant to prove based on a preponderance of the evidence (meaning, it is more likely than not) that the will is invalid.

Heir and Beneficiary Disputes –  If you were left out of a close relative’s will, or if you feel you are otherwise entitled to assets from the estate, you may have a kinship dispute. It may be necessary to prove your relationship to the deceased, and an experienced estate litigation lawyer could help you establish a strong claim.

Breach of Fiduciary Duty – Administrators, executors, and trustees have a fiduciary duty to the decedent and the beneficiaries of an estate. This means that they have a legal duty to administer the person’s estate accurately and responsibly. If they distribute assets to themselves, gift themselves money from the estate, commingle funds, or otherwise breach their duty, the beneficiaries could file a claim against them.

Creditors’ Claims Against the Estate – If the deceased owes significant debts at the time of their passing, creditors could make legal claims against the estate before the assets are distributed to the beneficiaries. When this happens, beneficiaries, the executor, or administrator may have to dispute the creditors’ claims.

Some other estate litigation matters we regularly handle include:

  • Will distribution claims
  • Personal representative appointment
  • Executor fee claims
  • Executor misconduct
  • Estate accounting
  • Formal accounting
  • Conservatorship disputes
  • Guardianship disputes

When you hire Staubus and Randall to represent you, we will work with you to understand the issues related to your dispute. We take the time to get to know you, understand the issues at hand, and identify your goals. We’re here to help explain your rights and protect your interests.

Frequently Asked Questions About Estate Litigation in Dallas

If you have questions about your rights, don’t hesitate to reach out to a knowledgeable Dallas estate litigation lawyer at Staubus and Randall right away for a confidential consultation. We’ve also provided the answers to a few frequently asked questions below:

Who could contest a will in Texas?

In Texas, any interested person can legally contest a will. The state defines “interested person” as an:

  • Heir
  • Spouse
  • Devisee
  • Creditor
  • Other individual having a claim against or right in an estate being administered

If you wish to contest a will, you will have the burden of proving that you meet the definition of an interested person.

How long do I have to contest a will in Texas?

A will can be contested up to two years after it has been admitted to probate. Keep in mind that you are allowed to contest a will before it is admitted to probate, and this is often a more effective option. Because the proponent must prove that the will is valid before it is admitted to probate, this gives you more leverage and the burden of proof will be different than if the will is determined to be valid by the court.

Will my case have to go to trial?

Many estate administration issues, including will contests, will be mediated before ever going to trial. Some judges in Texas strongly suggest that families seek mediation first, while others might require it.

In general Texas law favors family settlement agreements as a way of settling estate disputes.

If there is evidence to support a contest, however, the case may have to go to trial. If one of the parties involved requests a jury trial, a jury may be convened to decide on disputed issues, including testamentary capacity, undue influence, and more. The losing party could appeal a decision by the trial court, but the party that wins at trial will likely have the upper hand in these situations.

Contact Staubus and Randall?

The Dallas estate litigation lawyers of Staubus and Randall have extensive experience helping heirs, executors, administrators, beneficiaries, and family members resolve challenging estate matters. We know these cases can be complicated and difficult to endure. That’s why we work hard to help our clients understand their rights, the process, and how we can make a difference in their case.

Let us put our experience to work for you. We’ll be ready to discuss your case during a 100% confidential consultation with a knowledgeable member of our team. We’ll get to know you, your situation, and your goals and desires. We’ll formulate a plan to help you get what you’re rightfully owed. Contact us at 214-691-3411 to set up a consultation with Staubus and Randall.

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In the pursuit of our clients' cases, we utilize recognized experts, including forensic psychiatrists, forensic accountants, hand-writings experts, and investigators.

Frequent Asked Questions

Estate planning is the arrangement of transferring a person’s assets and property after their death. The estate plan you create may consist of cars, homes, life insurance, assets, real estate, jewelry, and other types of personal property. When you create an estate plan, you must sign it in front of a notary public.

Even if you don’t have many assets, it’s still a good idea to create an estate plan, so that loved ones won’t argue over who gets what when you pass away. Your estate plan will ensure everything you own goes to specified parties and doesn’t end up in the wrong hands.

Typically, those with extensive or complex assets will hire an estate planning lawyer to help draft their will. Many use a will to divide personal property, such as a home, among their family members. When you’re preparing your will, you need to make sure you meet specific legal requirements. Having a witness present when you’re signing the documents is crucial.

Of course, it’s possible to draft a will on your own, especially if you don’t have significant assets to leave behind. However, hiring an estate planning lawyer can ensure that your documents comply with current law, and that everything gets divided among your family the way you want, so there’s no confusion.

A power of attorney is a legal document giving power to one person (an agent or attorney-in-fact) to act on your behalf if you become incapacitated. When you create a power of attorney, you can designate a specific person and decide how much authority they will have.

An attorney-in-fact would maintain records of all decisions made on your behalf. Some decisions could include recommending a guardian for dependents or minor children and financial decisions. They could also make decisions about healthcare.

If you allow your power of attorney the authority to stop, give, or withhold medical treatment, you can leave instructions on which services you want and don’t want, when to stop life-saving measures, and when to cease specific treatments.

It’s devastating to lose a loved one, and the last thing anyone wants to do is handle their affairs. However, you must ensure property and assets go to the right people, and everyone follows their final wishes.

The first thing you should do when your loved one passes away is to request a copy of a legal pronouncement of death. You should also notify close friends and family of their death. If necessary, arrange for the supervision of dependents or minor children. You’ll also be able to find instructions on how to move forward with their plans from their will or trust.

A trust is a document that places your assets into a trust fund to transfer to a beneficiary upon your death. Most people will create a trust to speed up the process of settling their estate. You can also protect your assets, reduce taxes, and prevent probate.

With a trust, you’re not only able to control who your assets go to but also how the money gets disbursed. This is especially beneficial if the person you’re leaving money to doesn’t know how to save and spend properly. You can create a payment schedule with a specified amount paid to them on a weekly or monthly basis, rather than as a lump sum.

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What Our Clients Say

"I recently had the occasion to hire Mr. Staubus for a hotly contested Guardianship matter. Mr. Staubus brought a rare combination of effectiveness, reasonableness and understanding of the human element involved. Mr. Staubus handled all things in a calm, highly competent, effective and reasonable way. It could not have been as easy as he made it seem. He's a credit to the Bar."

Jody

"Before retaining the guidance of the Staubus & Randall firm, I was at my wit's end trying to close an uncle's estate as a co-executor. In addition to dealing with difficult heirs, I had other pressing business issues coming up immediately on estate land in the middle of the Eagleford Shale including dealings with pipeline, seismic, oil & gas, and construction companies. The local bank also refused to give me access to information relating to the estate. This quickly became the most stressful and desperate time in my life...and then I found Joseph Legere who truly became my guardian angel. He was able to get all issues resolved efficiently and the estate fully closed. His professionalism, immense legal knowledge on a wide variety of topics, and amazing communication skills took the burdens off of me and quickly got closure. I am forever indebted to this firm for giving me my life back."

Martha

"Without exception, the legal service, professional attitude, prompt communication of your firm and your legal knowledge is second to none. I only wish I had an attorney here in Boston that could hold a candle to your experience and expertise. Working with you has been a pleasure, but even more, has made me believe that there are knowledgeable attorneys that do care about doing a good job. Thank you Keith! You may not truly understand how much of an impact you are having on peoples lives, but for me, you have helped change my life. As I begin making my dreams come true I can't help but remember none of this would be possible without you."

Joann

"Keith Staubus and Julie Blankenship and their team represented me in a jury trial in the probate court where the ownership of the business which I had worked hard to build was at stake. They successfully fought to preserve my business and my professional reputation, working masterfully to gain the support of the jury. I would not hesitate to hire them again in any bet-the-company litigation.”

Karen

"I have required legal representation twice in my life in two separate will contests. Both times I sought assistance from Keith Staubus and Staubus/Randall. Their service, approach, and determination to obtain results exceeded the other attorneys in each case. Mr. Staubus has always come across as genuine while being direct. He gets the process done in a timely manner with results. I will certainly use him again when and if any new challenges arise.”

David

"After my husband's death, I was devastated by having to defend against a vicious dispute over my husband's estate. Julie Blankenship and Keith Staubus made me feel very comfortable in this distressing situation. They were very tough and did an excellent job for me in obtaining a summary judgment in my favor without a full jury trial. I was glad to have them and Diane Walker in my corner to help me achieve an excellent result - I won! If I ever had to go back to probate court, I would hire them again.” - (will and trust construction case)

Flo

"If you need intervention for someone you love but don't know where to turn or who to turn to, Julie Blankenship and Keith Staubus helped me through the most difficult and stressful time in my life with a much loved family member. I now believe that good will triumph over evil. They fought for what was right, and good prevailed." (contested guardianship and will contest)

Janet

"As a professional money manager, I have used Ryan Randall's estate planning services both personally and for my clients. Ryan has exhibited three critical attributes in his work with me: (1) high intellectual capacity, (2) exceptional thoroughness, and (3) a total commitment to integrity. In today's litigious world, it can be quite costly not to "get things done right.” An added bonus to us was that we found one of the nicest people we could imagine.”

John

"I was represented by Keith Staubus as an income beneficiary in a lawsuit with the trustee of a family trust. Utilizing the expertise of a forensic accountant and his own trust expertise, Keith was able to negotiate a judicial modification of the trust providing for the buyout of my income interest for a substantial lump sum payment out of the trust, resulting in a win-win situation for all of the parties. I highly recommend Staubus/Randall for any trust disputes and trust modification actions."

Kathy

"I have been a wealth management specialist and retirement plan consultant with the Dallas/Fort Worth financial community for over 20 years. I have engaged Ryan Randall to work with a number of my best clients over the years, including business owners, professionals and families. My clients always appreciate Ryan’s straightforward approach to estate planning, asset protection planning and business succession planning. He makes even the most sophisticated estate planning strategies understandable."

Larry

What planning we can sue for?

When a loved one dies, and the execution of their estate plan begins, many disputes can arise among family members. Despite the decedent's creation of a good estate plan, problems can occur if a power of attorney doesn’t perform their duties or someone’s unhappy with the division and distribution of assets.

The most common disputes estate lawyers see include:

Bad fiduciary selection

A majority of disputes arise when the power of attorney, executor, or trustee doesn’t correctly perform their duties when their loved one dies. That failure is called a breach of fiduciary duty. Common breaches include:

  • Failure to file tax returns
  • Using assets for personal benefit
  • Failure to provide tax and accounting information to beneficiaries
  • Dividing and distributing assets improperly

To avoid these issues, you should ensure your loved one chooses the right fiduciary during the process of planning their estate. Careful selection can ensure there’s no breach of duty, and they act in the deceased’s best interest.

Will or Trust Contest

When someone contests a trust or will, it’s either because they don’t think it’s legally valid or believe someone influenced the creator into making decisions they didn’t want to make.

To be legal, the creator of the will must sign under specific circumstances and in a particular manner. In Texas, the person must meet the following requirements:

  • Be at least 18 years of age;
  • Be of sound mind, meaning they’re able to make decisions and understand the consequences of a will;
  • Sign the will themselves;
  • Signature of at least two witnesses; and
  • List at least one beneficiary.

Improper execution of a will is less common than undue influence. Many will argue that the creator of the trust or will made their decisions because of another party. The person accused of undue influence could be a friend, caregiver, professional advisor, or family member.

Distribution of property

Sometimes conflicts will arise when the creator of a will or trust intends to leave someone their property but dies before they can change their estate plan to reflect that decision. Other instances create conflicts when beneficiaries believe the distribution of property is unfair or inequitable.

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How should I handle estate law disputes?

If you come across the disputes listed above or any other types of disputes, there are options for resolving them. The remedy you choose will depend on the particular conflict and the people involved.

  • Remove the executor: If there’s a problem with the executor of the estate, you might need to replace or remove them. Finding a replacement can be difficult, especially finding one that all parties are happy with. However, it’s the best decision to ensure everyone is satisfied with how the estate gets handled. The best choice would be a neutral third party who doesn’t hold any biases.
  • Litigation: To litigate a dispute, you must be an inheritor and have sufficient grounds for pursuing a lawsuit. Most people will litigate if they believe there was an improper distribution of the property or suffered a financial loss because someone mismanaged the estate.
  • Mediation: This is the best option for individuals who want to settle the issues amicably, timely, and inexpensively. Mediations usually bring about quick results and cost less than litigation. You also have complete control over the outcome because there isn’t a judge or jury involved.

The Firm

The attorneys at Staubus and Randall have over 100 years of combined experience in estate planning, probate, and litigation. We have the knowledge and skills to tackle complex legal issues, such as guardianships, will contests, fiduciary litigation, and trust litigation. We can also handle routine matters, such as estate administration, probating wills, heirship determinations, and other probate court matters.

Staubus and Randall received a preeminent AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating possible from a peer-rated legal service. This rating recognizes our hard work, dedication, and the case results we’re able to achieve.

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