Estate Planning and the Potential for Estate Litigation in Texas

EDITOR’S NOTE:

As one of the top law firms in Texas for estate disputes and litigation, we at Burdette & Rice have a unique perspective on some of the do’s and don’ts of proper estate planning. In this blog post, we review some of the background documentation and procedures that should go into preparing an estate plan. If you or a loved one are facing a potential estate dispute or litigation situation, reach out to one of our Dallas-based attorneys for a consultation as a mere blog post cannot be substituted for professional advice. We even have a satellite office in Plano, serving North Texas, making it easy to come in for a consultation.

 

Dallas Estate, Trust, and Probate Blog

Photo credit: Daxis via Foter.com / CC BY-ND

 

In our law firm’s practice, with so much emphasis placed on litigating disputes concerning inheritance rights and the behavior of fiduciaries like executors and trustees, our attorneys are frequently tasked with uncovering information about the creation of the key estate planning documents at the center of a dispute. Virtually every will contest, for example, leads to a critical analysis of a last will and testament and the oral deposition of the estate planning attorney that helped a client create it. The planning and execution of this instrument is a veritable minefield of traps that might invalidate the document, and frequently a goldmine for the party seeking to have the will set aside.

One common mistake that we frequently see in will contests stems from the failure of the estate planner to use an intake form or checklist for the client. Such intake forms or questionnaires are efficient tools that, when used and used properly, become good defensive evidence in a later will contest. Conversely, the absence of such a questionnaire can become terrific offensive evidence when the will is questioned. A proper and complete form often demonstrates that the estate planner and the client discussed the client’s family, assets, debts, desires and rationale. Detail can be invaluable, and the lack of detail, or absence of the form altogether, creates a playground for the party challenging the estate planning transaction as rushed, incomplete, or poorly documented.

The execution ceremony itself is also frequently scrutinized. While lapses at this stage can be downright fatal to securing a will’s admission to probate, even minor lapses can still fuel litigation. Estate planners that treat their execution ceremonies like an assembly line, where documents are simply transferred from one signatory to another, leave themselves exposed for focusing on the finished products and not the process. The client’s understanding of each document can get lost when there are so many things signed in so short a period of time, for example. A prepared will contestant can highlight this fact and present the jury with compelling evidence.

There are dozens of pitfalls for estate planners upon which will contestants can always capitalize at trial. Spotting them ahead of time helps minimize the risk that these pitfalls represent.

EDITOR’S SUMMARY

As lawyers working in the area of estate disputes under Texas law, we often see estates that were poorly prepared or for which certain key documentation procedures were not followed. In this blog post, we reviewed some of the do’s and don’ts of estate planning vis-a-vis potential litigation. Our Dallas-based attorneys are happy to meet with you in a consultation if you, or a loved one, are facing a potential estate, trust, or inheritance dispute. We even have a Plano, Texas, office servicing North Texas including Frisco.


Poto credit: Daxis via Foter.com / CC BY-ND