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Dallas Lawyers for Contesting a Will for Improper Execution

If you want to challenge the validity of your loved one’s will due to improper execution, you should contact Staubus and Randall to discuss your legal options. You might have a case you can pursue in probate court to contest the will.

Improper execution means the testator, the person creating the will, did not sign the will, did not sign it in front of two witnesses, or the two witnesses didn’t sign it. Texas strictly enforces what a person needs to do to execute a valid will. If it doesn’t include all the necessary requirements, a beneficiary, heir, or another party could file a claim to contest its validity.

The Dallas estate litigation lawyers of Staubus and Randall have over 100 years of combined experience handling estate litigation matters. We’re familiar with state laws and the legal procedures required to challenge a deceased individual’s will. When you hire us, we will take over your case from start to finish so you can focus on grieving the loss of your family member. You should not be forced to handle this legal matter when you already face various other responsibilities.

For a free consultation with an experienced and trusted lawyer in Dallas, call Staubus and Randall at 214-691-3411 or reach out to us online.

What Makes a Will Valid?

Under Texas law, a will is only valid if it includes the elements listed below.

Proper Execution

The testator, the person creating and executing a last will and testament, must put their final wishes in writing. There are two types of legally recognized wills in Texas:

  • Holographic will – A holographic will refers to a handwritten document with the testator’s signature. It does not have to be signed in front of a notary public or witnesses.
  • Attested will – An attested will is a typed document. Typically, someone types it on a computer and prints it out for signature. The testator must sign it in front of two witnesses to be valid.

The two witnesses must be over 14 years old. They also cannot be anyone that would benefit from the will, such as an heir or named beneficiary.

Legal Capacity

Creating and executing a last will and testament requires the testator to be of legal capacity. The elements of legal capacity include:

  • Being 18 years of age or older;
  • Having been lawfully married; or
  • Being a member of the United States armed forces.

Testamentary Capacity

Testamentary capacity means the testator is of sound mind and has the mental capacity to understand the action they’re taking by creating and executing a will. They should know the contents of the legal document and the effects it will have when they die. They must also understand the nature of the assets included in their will and who will receive them upon their death.

Testamentary Intent

Testamentary intent means the testator freely and voluntarily signs the will. There is no undue influence by someone else inducing the testator to execute their will.

For example, the will can be considered invalid if another person coerces or threatens the testator into signing.

Improper Execution of a Will

Improper execution includes two major factors:

  • The testator didn’t sign their last will and testament correctly.
  • The testator didn’t sign their will in front of two witnesses.

If your loved one died and you discovered they didn’t execute their will correctly, you might have grounds to contest the validity. You should consult an estate litigation lawyer to determine whether you have a case to pursue.

Parties Eligible to Contest a Will in Texas

According to Texas statute 22.018, only interested parties are allowed to contest a will. Interested parties include:

  • A spouse, heir, devisee, creditor, or someone else who has a right to or claim against the administration of the deceased’s estate
  • Any person interested in an incapacitated person’s welfare, including any minor children

If you are one of these individuals and can prove the testator didn’t execute their will correctly, you could file your case in probate court. You must have evidence to show your loved one’s will wasn’t signed or witnessed as required by state law. If you don’t have the necessary evidence, you will likely lose your case.

Deadline to Challenge a Will

There is a timeframe for pursuing legal action if you believe the will is invalid. This is called a statute of limitations. The statute of limitations in Texas is two years. That means you must initiate your case within two years from the date the court enters the will into probate. Once the statutory deadline expires, you could lose your right to contest the validity of the will.

Probate is the legal process of a court reviewing and validating a will so the administrator or executor can distribute the testator’s assets according to their wishes. You don’t have to wait for probate to start to contest the will. In fact, it might be beneficial to initiate your case in court before probate because it has not been deemed valid by a judge yet.

Why Choose Staubus and Randall?

Since 1992, we have represented Dallas clients in their estate litigation cases. We understand the stress of finding out your loved one’s will might not be valid and the overwhelming responsibility that comes with contesting it. Whether you’re a spouse, heir, or another party, you can count on us to meet your needs and fight hard to try to reach your desired outcome.

Our legal team provides every client with the personalized attention and service they deserve. You will be our top priority while we’re working on your case. We take a custom approach to every legal matter we handle to create the most effective strategy for every one. We have the experience and resources to get the job done.

Staubus and Randall has a reputation for our dedication to our clients and the results we’ve achieved. We hold an AV Preeminent® rating from Martindale-Hubbell, the highest rating lawyers can receive. Prestigious legal organizations also listed multiple lawyers from our firm as Texas Super Lawyers and Texas Rising Stars.

Contact Staubus and Randall Today

Contact Staubus and Randall right now if you want to file a lawsuit for the improper execution of your loved one’s will. Whether the testator didn’t sign the will correctly, or there weren’t any witnesses, we could help you contest the will and try to prove it isn’t valid.

Call us at 214-691-3411 for a free consultation with a Dallas estate litigation lawyer and learn more about what we can do for you.

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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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