A family settlement agreement offers a solution for parties to a dispute to agree out of court how to handle certain claims and contested issues. In probate practice, family settlement agreements are particularly useful in the context of a will contest. Texas courts strongly encourage parties to a dispute to reach an agreement between themselves. Because family settlement agreements are often cost-effective and prevent the hardship of a trial, families often favor the agreements as well.
Sometimes a family settlement agreement can be implemented without court approval, but there are situations where a court must approve the agreement, including:
- if a will has already been admitted to probate but the family wishes to disregard it
- when a minor or an unknown person has an interest in the estate
- if the will that is not be probated creates a trust that the family wishes to terminate, and all the trust beneficiaries have not agreed.
Most of the time, these executed family settlement agreements are enforceable under Texas contract law, but it is possible to draft an agreement to be enforceable by contempt of court. A family settlement agreement is a technical legal document and should be drafted by an attorney. Parties to such an agreement should be represented by counsel to ensure that their interests are protected.
Of course, there are situations where a family settlement agreement is not an option, but in most situations, families who wish to save the expense and hardship of the litigation process which can include a trial, can agree to the extent necessary to reach a family settlement agreement.