Chattanooga Probate Litigation Attorneys
Here to help when wills get complicated in Tennessee
In a perfect world, everyone who dies, unexpectedly or otherwise, would have a complete and correct will to distribute personal property. They would name a willing and able personal representative, with no outside influences. However, in the real world, there are many reasons why there is litigation over a loved one’s estate. There may be legitimate concerns about whether a will is valid. The original will may be lost. Sometimes, relatives do exert undue pressure on the person who prepares a will. Sometimes, disputes revolve around which child mom or dad “loved best.”
When disputes occur, a skilled Chattanooga probate litigation lawyer can be engaged to advocate for the personal representative of the estate (an executor or an administrator) or for one or more beneficiaries or other interested parties. Wagner & Wagner Attorneys at Law was founded in Chattanooga over seven decades ago, and since that time, we have striven to merit the faith and loyalty of our clients through professionalism and honesty. We are prepared to help our clients through the probate litigation process to ensure the true wishes of the decedent are met and to ensure the estate is administered competently on behalf of everyone involved.
What may lead to probate ligation in Chattanooga?
Some of the reasons for probate disputes include:
- Someone, normally a relative, thinks they should have been named a beneficiary.
- A named beneficiary doesn’t receive as much as he/she expected.
- The will names a non-relative as a beneficiary or an organization as a beneficiary.
- Children contest the appointment of an executor in a will.
- Different relatives seek probate approval of an appointment as an administrator.
- Biological children raise questions about the rights of adoptees, stepchildren, and half-children.
- A person who received a larger than expected share cared for the decedent prior to his/her death.
- Different children receive different shares.
- The decedent remarried or had a romantic relationship late in life.
- The absence or existence of prenuptial agreements.
- There was a family business without a clear succession plan.
- Someone expected a specific bequest and didn’t receive that request.
Generally, the more an estate is worth, the more likely there is to be a contest.
What types of will contests do you handle?
The range of issues that a probate lawyer can assist with is varied, from the simple improper signing of the will to high-stakes and emotional intra-familial conflict. Our Chattanooga probate litigation lawyers handle all types of disputes (on behalf of the personal representative of the estate or a claimant). The most common dispute we handle is a challenge to the validity of a will. Will challenges include the following:
- A lack of testamentary capacity. Tennessee requires that the person who prepares a will be 18-years-of-age and have the mental capacity to make a will. Mental capacity requires that the testator (the person making the will);
- Understands that they are creating a will.
- Understands the assets and property they have.
- Understands the identity of the people who are the natural beneficiaries.
- A lack of testamentary intent. The testator didn’t intend for the document to be his/her last will.
- Undue influence. Often a dishonest relative will take advantage of the decedent to force the decedent to write a will that benefits the unscrupulous relative. Undue influence can be shown:
- If the person accused of undue influence had a confidential relationship (such as a caretaker) with the decedent.
- The will distributes property in a way or ways that wouldn’t normally be expected.
- The decedent was in ill or frail health.
- The influencer prevented others from communicating with the decedent.
- Fraud or duress. Fraud is another ground for denying or invalidating a will. If the testator was misled about his/her assets, the tax advantages of a will, or is misled to believe they are signing a different type of document; then the will may be suspect. If the will-writer (testator) was directly threatened to include or exclude an element into or from the will this conduct/duress could invalidate a will.
- Lack of formalities. Wills must be signed and witnessed according to the Tennessee Execution of Wills Act. Wills generally should be in writing and witnessed by two people.
- The decedent revoked the will. Wills can be revoked by the creation and execution of a later will, by a document that revokes the prior will, or by a destructive act such as burning or shredding the will.
- The existence of a will. We help personal representatives and challengers when a will cannot be found.
- The existence of more than one will. The court decides which will is valid.
Some clients may be hesitant to pursue probate litigation when their rights have been limited or denied; however, the reality is that there are laws protecting the rights of all involved, including their deceased loved one or family member. Our probate attorneys work to make sure those rights are being observed fully, and to protect an estate from unjust claims.
Can the appointment or performance of a personal representative be challenged?
Just because a will names someone to be an executor doesn’t mean that named person is automatically approved. Sometimes, the named executor is deceased. The executor may be mentally incompetent due to dementia. The executor could even be underage. At Wagner & Wagner, our Chattanooga probate lawyers represent litigants when the authority or ability of a named executor is at stake.
We also represent personal representatives who seek approval to administer an intestate estate (an estate without a will) and those who object to the appointment.
Once a personal representative (an executor or administrator) is appointed, there may be challenges to the representative’s performance. These challenges may include concerns about:
- Selling the home of the decedent
- Selling a business that belonged to the decedent
- Obtaining the proper value of the assets
- Properly transferring the probate assets
- Payment of the creditors and any administrative expenses
- The filing of an inventory and/or accounting
- The timely distribution of the estate assets
Probate litigation may include holding an executor/administrator to his/her duties or replacement of the executor/administrator.
How can your Chattanooga probate litigation attorneys help?
Our probate litigation lawyers will start by answering all your questions. We’re skilled at preparing the strongest case possible on your behalf. In many probate litigation disputes, the success of your case rests on showing:
- Which documents are valid
- The correct assets are identified
- The assets are properly valued and properly transferred
- The administration of the estate including financial transactions, accounting, payment of bills, and other matters is handled properly
- Any critical mistakes or unwise decisions are addressed
- Dishonesty and fraud are not tolerated
We are seasoned trial lawyers who understand how to gather evidence, argue cases before probate judges, and negotiate just settlements.
Do you have a probate litigation lawyer near me?
At Wagner & Wagner, we meet clients at our office in Chattanooga located at 701 Market Street, Suite 310, Chattanooga, TN. When necessary, we consider alternate arrangements such as video conferences.
Litigation causes a lot of anxiety for the participants – especially when people are already mourning the life of a loved one. Relax. Take a deep breath. We’ll explain your rights and guide you through each step of the litigation process.
Contact a knowledgeable, trustworthy probate litigation attorney today
At Wagner & Wagner Attorneys at Law, our Chattanooga probate litigation lawyers are seasoned trial lawyers. We understand the Tennessee laws that govern wills and other estate documents. We work with you, other relatives who support your claim, financial professionals, and others to present the strongest evidence in support of your claim. If you or a family member has any questions about a probate litigation issue, speak with an experienced probate lawyer by calling us or completing our contact form to schedule a free consultation. We also offer legal services to clients in Chattanooga, Cleveland, and all surrounding counties.