Whenever the family, heirs, or beneficiaries of an estate are in conflict over an estate, it is considered an estate dispute. These types of disputes are also sometimes called estate litigation or fiduciary litigation.
Estate disputes in Georgia can start in a number of different ways. Many times, the family is shocked and outraged at the behavior, especially when there was a close relationship before the death. Other times, the bad behavior is expected because of an already bad relationship or past history.
Whether the situation was expected or not, our attorneys routinely help people with estate disputes, and we work to stop others from taking advantage of the estate, family members, heirs, or beneficiaries.
Common Ways that Estate Disputes in Georgia Begin
There are a number of different ways that our law firm sees estate disputes in Georgia begin. Although your situation may leave you feeling overwhelmed and lost, there are solutions to these common problems.
1. Someone is not sharing information about the estate. The most common way that this situation occurs is when someone assumes control of the estate, gathers all of the deceased’s important documents, and then refuses to share any information with anyone. The wrongdoer tends to believe that he or she is “in charge” and does not have to share anything with anyone, or answer to anyone. The person may be the named executor in a will, and may or may not have been appointed to represent the estate by the probate court.
Fortunately, the wrongdoer has it all backwards. They do have to share information, the estate is not their private fiefdom, and they do have to answer for their actions. In these situation, the first goal is usually to get information about what is going on in the estate. Our estate attorneys work to make that happen.
2. Someone is taking, destroying, or misusing estate property. Often, this situation happens in connection with someone withholding information about the estate and you may suspect, but not know for certain, that the same person is misusing or misappropriating estate property.
Other times, the wrongdoer may not be nearly as secretive about his or her activity, and blatantly tells everyone involved what they are doing and that this is just the way it is going to be. Typically, our probate attorneys later find out that the wrongdoer had all sorts of justifications about why he or she deserved this or that, and why the other family, heirs, or beneficiaries do not deserve it, should not get it, and should be happy about what the wrongdoer graciously decided to give them – regardless of what Georgia probate law says about the situation.
Whether the wrongdoer is being secretive or open, this situation should not be allowed to linger. By acting quickly, you gain several advantages. First, the longer that the wrongdoer is allowed to be in his or her position of “power”, the more resistant he or she tends to be fixing the situation (which means more aggressive action on your part will be necessary). Second, the more time that passes, the higher chance there is for property to go missing or be “lost”.
The first step to resolving this type of situation is to cut off the wrongdoer’s ability to deal with estate property. There are several strategies to accomplish that result, and which one will work best depends on the situation. Our probate attorneys enjoy fixing this particular type of issue.
3. Someone is presenting a fraudulent will. Usually, when someone tries to probate a false or fraudulent will, the will was created shortly before the deceased died. It may have been something that was created while the deceased was on his or her deathbed, or while medicated. Many times, we find that the person pushing for the will to be admitted becomes aggressive when questioned about it.
There are a number of things to look at when there is a possibility of a fraudulent will. Although overturning a properly executed will in Georgia can be a difficult, it is not impossible. Our legal team knows what to look for and how to properly conduct an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the new will to give the best chance of overturning it.
4. Someone is opposing a valid will. Sometimes the heirs of an estate will decide to challenge the deceased’s will. Often, this happens when the heirs do not find their names in the will. If the will is overturned, then the heirs will inherit the entire estate. If the will is upheld, then the beneficiaries named in the will receive the estate. As a result, any challenge to a will should be taken seriously.
There are a number of different reasons someone could allege to attempt to undermine a will. The first thing to look at is whether the will appears to be signed property – under Georgia probate law, two independent witnesses are required. Contrary to popular belief, a notary is not necessary.
Although Georgia probate law is slanted in favor of upholding wills that are properly signed, there are other ways to overturn the will, such as incapacity, undue influence, and others that are too numerous to list. No matter what tactic the other party uses, you must be prepared to respond appropriately if you want to make sure the will is upheld. Our legal team can help. We do it all day, every day.
5. The executor or administrator is not doing their job. Unfortunately, not every executor or administrator does a good job at managing the estate. Sometimes it is because they just do not know what they are doing and refuse to get help – we will be the first to admit that the job is a lot more involved and complex than most people think.
Other times, however, the executor or administrator is using the estate to their own advantage, and to the disadvantage of the heirs or beneficiaries. This situation can take many forms – from an executor continuing to live in the estate home without paying rent, to an administrator taking whatever estate property he or she wants, and giving away the rest to the people he or she likes, and everything in between. We have seen so many creative ways that a less-than-honest executor or administration can use an estate to his or her own benefit it is impossible to list them all.
The good news is that there are solutions and you can do something about it. An executor or administrator has a duty to always act in the best interest of the heirs or beneficiaries of the estate. Our legal team knows what to look for, how to stop it, and how to hold an unscrupulous executor or administrator responsible for his or her actions.
6. Someone is trying to become administrator or executor, and you know they will not be fair or do the right thing. This situation typically starts when you receive a document asking you to agree to allow someone else to serve as the executor or administrator of the estate – it will be titled either “Selection by Heirs” or “Acknowledgement of Service and Assent to Probate Instanter”. After looking at the document, you have concerns that the person may not be very fair, or may not do the job well.
Unfortunately, this is a common situation. The first thing you must know is that you do not have to sign the form. You are not legally required to sign it, and the probate court is not going to be upset with you for refusing to sign. Refusing is your legal right. If you do not sign, it simply means that the court will have to give you official notice of the proceeding, and you reserve the right to object after receiving that notice.
The second thing you must know is that once you receive the official notice, you are under a very strict and very short time deadline. If you want to object, that is the best possible time to do so.
If you miss that deadline, there are ways to object later, but those methods require a lot more time and effort than objecting at the outset. All too often, we find that people wait too long because they hope the situation will get better. Then, our attorneys end up helping them fight to remove an entrenched executor or administrator that has already caused a lot of harm to the estate. It is usually better for everyone to prevent it in the first place. Whichever position you are in, our probate lawyers will help you find the best way to fix it.
Each of these situations has potential solutions.
Sometimes an issue can be resolved through careful negotiation to wind up with a settlement that everyone can live with. Other times, more aggressive action is necessary, such as taking the matter before the probate court. Our firm’s process is to devise a number of different strategies that are likely to achieve the result you would like, discuss the pros and cons of each one with you, give you our recommendation, and help you make the best decision possible.
We understand that this is often a very stressful and emotional time, and we provide forthright, compassionate counsel to our clients, and do whatever it takes to make things right. Sometimes that means finding a peaceful solution through negotiation and settlement, and other times that means aggressively pursuing a wrongdoer in court. Either way, our probate attorneys work tirelessly to achieve your goals.
If you would like to find out if our team can help you with estate disputes in Georgia, please set up a private, confidential consultation with our office.