Ramey & Flock has successfully represented clients in multiple will contest cases and trials, representing the party defending the will in some cases and representing the party challenging the will in others.
Will contests can never be eliminated, but the risk of a contest can be reduced by:
- Developing Evidence of Capacity
When mental status is a concern, it is a good idea to obtain a doctor’s letter close in time to the signing of the will confirming that capacity exists.
- Using Non-Testamentary Transfers
Transferring the bulk of the property outside of the will reduces the incentive to contest the will. Lifetime gifts and multi-party accounts are more difficult to contest because the funds are often dissipated shortly after death and difficult to trace.
- Using Credible Witnesses
Secure long-time friends of the testator and his or her family to serve as witnesses. Choose witnesses who are articulate and will be liked by a jury. It is also a plus if the witnesses are well respected by the potential will contestants.
- Using Corporate Fiduciaries
If disinterested corporate fiduciaries serve in executor and trustee positions, conflicts with beneficiaries will be reduced. Disgruntled beneficiaries are less likely to challenge the actions of a neutral party as opposed to a disliked family member.
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Powers of Attorney
Persons holding a power of attorney (POA) can abuse those powers and can transfer substantial amounts of funds for their own benefit, at the expense of the person granting the POA and that person’s heirs. Ramey & Flock has been involved in many cases involving alleged abuse of powers of attorney, one of which involved a contested transfer of over $16 million.
Actions taken under a POA must always be in the best interest of the person granting the POA, and the person holding the POA has a duty to account for all transactions.
Texas has recently adopted much of the Uniform Power of Attorney Act, making suits against a fiduciary for misuse of a power of attorney much more available. The new act considerably broadens the persons who can sue.
Bank account designations can be subject to claims of undue influence or lack of capacity, among other disputed issues. It is very important to seek legal advice as soon as possible, as many times the banks pay out the funds shortly after death and the funds then become very difficult to recover from those receiving them.
Ramey & Flock has successfully represented clients in bank account disputes, one of which involved a trial that resulted in a recovery of 100% of the funds for the client, over $250,000 in total. In another case, the Firm was able to force the production of records that revealed the improper transfer of over $790,000 by a person who had joint access to the client’s bank account.
In a 2017 case from the Tyler Court of Appeals, a signature card on a commonly used form failed to establish a right of survivorship in a bank account. Legal advice should be sought to determine if the language applicable to the account in question is sufficient to transfer funds to the designated person(s).
Ramey & Flock has extensive experience in guardianships, including cases involving the elderly, persons born with a mental disability, and minors. The Firm has represented those seeking to be the guardian as well as defended clients for whom the proposed guardianship was not appropriate. The Firm has also filed guardianships to prevent financial abuse of the elderly.
In one recent case, Ramey & Flock assisted a client in claiming his share to a guardianship estate valued at over $3,000,000.
The most common trust disputes are (1) fiduciary violations by the trustee; (2) seeking to change to a new trustee; and (3) changing the terms of a trust.
Many trusts remain active several decades after inception, and they need to be revised to continue to function well. A lawsuit is usually required to change the trust terms, so retaining the right attorney for the job is critical.
Ramey & Flock has successfully helped clients get trust terms modified, to change from one trustee to another, and has represented both trustees and beneficiaries in litigation regarding allegations of trustee abuse.
On more than one occasion Ramey & Flock has participated in contested trials where abusive trustees were held accountable for their misdeeds and were removed from office. In one case, the Firm’s client recovered over $1,350,000 as a result of fiduciary wrongdoing by a trustee, and in another the Firm’s clients recovered real estate valued at over $1,000,000.
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