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Dallas Contested Will Attorneys

The passing of a loved one is never easy. What happens when the pain of losing someone is amplified by the fact that their will does not include the provisions you expected it to have? What if you suspect that the document does not accurately reflect the final wishes of the person who has just passed on? People may be afraid to challenge the final wishes of the deceased, but there are a number of situations where it is possible and in your best interest to challenge a will.

After the trauma of losing a loved one, it can be hard to imagine having the emotional capacity to legally challenge a will. The experienced legal team at Staubus and Randall understands this and offers compassionate service with highly effective and aggressive representation. We know that when it comes to the challenge of contesting a will, the stakes are high.

Our formidable team of seasoned attorneys has substantial courtroom experience in will contests. We have the skills and the deep bench necessary to forcefully and strategically tackle the complexities that come with contesting a will.

If you are considering a legal challenge to a will, contact Staubus and Randall at 214-691-3411 for a consultation. We are the team you can trust to secure your future.

What Is a Will?

A will is a legal document that spells out how an individual wants their assets, whether outright or in trust, and who that individual wants to serve as their executor to administer those assets. It is a record of the deceased’s final wishes and how they want those wishes carried out, enabling a person to exercise final control over the things that they accumulated in their lifetime and distribute them to people or causes that were important to them. For many people, it is peace of mind that their loved ones will be taken care of after they are gone.

In Texas, a will must be in writing, signed by the person making the will (called a “Testator”), witnessed by two witnesses at least 14 years of age who sign their names in the Testator’s presence.

Under What Circumstances Can You Contest a Will?

There are a handful of situations where it may be appropriate and a legally viable option to contest a will. In the state of Texas, anyone with a financial stake in the outcome of the estate to be distributed has standing to legally challenge a will. It is then up to that contestant to provide a basis for and prove to the court why the will should not be honored. In general, there are six common situations that an individual may cite as reasons for contesting the validity of a will. These include:

Lack of Testamentary Capacity

In order to be a valid will, the person executing the will must be of sound mind. Texas courts define the term “sound mind” to mean “testamentary capacity”. In order to have testamentary capacity, the person signing the will must have sufficient mental ability to understand that he we is executing a will, understand the general nature and extent of his property, understand who his next kin are and the objects of his bounty, and must have sufficient memory to collect all of these things in his mind long enough to form a reasonable judgment as to what he is signing. The pivotal issue is whether the Testator had testamentary capacity on the date the will was executed. However, evidence of the Testator’s state of mind at other times can be used to prove his state of mind on the date the will was executed. If a will contest is filed prior to the will being admitted to probate, the person offering the will has the burden of proof of establishing that the Testator was of sound mind on that date. If the will has already been admitted to probate at the time that the time the will contest has been filed, the burden of proof as to testamentary capacity is on the contestant.

Evidence of the person’s mental history and diagnosis are important in the will contest, as are the estate planner’s file and the testimony of friends, family and caregivers who spend time around the Testator around the time of the execution of the will.

Undue Influence

A will may also be challenged on the grounds of undue influence. This refers to another individual exercising influence over the testator in order to convince them to execute a will that does not contain the testator’s wishes. Undue influence may occur as a result of manipulation or as a result of blackmail and extortion.

Undue influence has been defined as compelling a Testator to do that which is against his will from fear, the desire for peace, or some feeling which he is unable to resist. It may take many forms, including force, intimidation, duress, excessive importunity, or deception. Undue influence need not be accomplished forcibly and directly, more often being exercised by subtle and devious means, which may occur consistently over a long period of time, or briefly and immediately prior to the execution of the will. The Texas Supreme Court has stated that undue influence may be exercised through the silent power of a strong mind over a weak one. These cases often involve the influencer actively working to alienate the elder from their family, friends, and trusted advisors.

Some of the facts which the court considers in revising claims of undue influence include the weakness of mind and body of the Testator, and their susceptibility to undue influence; whether the will made an unnatural disposition of property, the opportunities which existed for the exertion of undue influence, and whether the person receiving the unnatural gift assisted in the preparation or execution of the will.

Lack of Due Execution

Challenging a will for lack of due execution means that some or all of the steps that are required by law to be taken in the execution of the document were missed. That could mean that the will was not signed by the testator or by another person on behalf of the testator in their direction, or that two credible witnesses who are least 14 years of age failed to sign in the presence of each other and in the presence of the Testator.

Revocation

A will can also be contested on the claim that the testator revoked the will itself prior to death. In order to prove that a will was revoked before death, the individual challenging the will would need to provide evidence, such as a more recent copy of a will, to show that the earlier version had been revoked.

Insane Delusion

A will can be set aside if it was executed as a result of an insane delusion. Regardless of whether a person is normally capable of attending to their business affairs, a person whose mind is warped by the false and unfounded belief of supposed facts that do not exist, and which no rational person would believe, may have their will set aside on the grounds of insane delusion. The terms of the will must be directly influenced by the insane delusion.

Fraud

A will can be set aside if its execution was induced by fraud, and the person who signed the will acted in reliance on such false representation.

Any of these factors alone can result in a challenge to a will. In some circumstances, a combination of factors may be at play. For example, in some cases, there may be both a lack of testamentary capacity as well as undue influence at play.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for individuals to take advantage of someone who is ill or has cognition issues, such as dementia, and manipulate them into changing their will or making decisions they would normally not choose to make. These individuals can use this to their own benefit and to the detriment of those the testator wanted to include or take care of.

Frequently Asked Questions

We’ve included answers to some of the most frequently asked questions we receive at Staubus and Randall. One of our attorneys can answer your specific questions in detail.

Am I allowed to contest a will?

Individuals who have “standing,” meaning they are personally and financially affected by the will, such as an heir or someone mentioned in a previous will, may contest a loved one’s will. You are entitled to submit evidence and call witnesses to support your case. If you have concerns about a will, your best bet is to talk to an experienced estate litigation attorney immediately. They will be able to review your concerns and the circumstances under which the will was created and give you a better idea of the best approach to contesting the document.

How long can it take to contest a will?

The answer depends upon the complexity of the case and how determined each side is to continue battling without negotiating. It could be a matter of months, even years. It all depends on the circumstances of the individual case, the court schedule, and the nature and value of the assets of the estate.

Is there a time limit to contesting a will in Texas?

Yes. In the state of Texas, a will contest needs to be filed within two years. That is two years from the date that the will was admitted to probate, not two years from the death of the individual. That is why it is so important to consult with an attorney if you are considering a legal challenge to a will. A lawyer can review your legal options with you and lay out a strategy for your best course of action. Waiting only means that valuable evidence that may be able to help your case could be lost or destroyed in the interim.

How much will it cost to contest a will?

That depends on the length and complexity of the case. Talking with an experienced probate and litigation attorney can help you get a better idea of what will be involved in taking your particular case to court.

Do I need an attorney to contest a will?

Contesting a will can get complicated quickly, and you will need experienced help navigating the legal system. An estate attorney will be able to give you the legal advice you need and help build a strategic plan to contest the will in question. This is not the territory that you want to venture into alone.

How Can Staubus and Randall Help Me Contest a Will?

The skilled and effective team at Staubus and Randall are ready to help you take on the task of contesting a will that may be invalid. We understand that this is a confusing and painful time for you and can offer emotional support in addition to aggressive legal representation.

Challenging a will is a complex legal endeavor; don’t trust your case to just anyone. You need the skills and resources that a team with over 100 years of estate and probate experience can provide. If you believe that a will may be invalid, or that you are not being given your dues, reach out to our office at 214-691-3411 for a consultation. We want to help you secure what you deserve.

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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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