There is an old adage that says "money makes people do funny things." Unfortunately, when it comes to inheritances, that adage does not even begin to describe the turmoil that can unfold when family members and friends begin to think they may have been cheated out of money. People who are generally thought to be caring, thoughtful and rational can quickly become hostile, conniving and greedy. Brothers and sisters who were best friends will disavow their relationships over the thought of "stolen money." These disputes can, and unfortunately often do, lead to complex legal battles.
Probate litigation is not merely limited to challenging the validity of a will or a trust. In Michigan, probate courts are set up to handle a variety of legal disputes related to probate proceedings. For example, probate litigation includes the contested determination of heirs in intestate situations, will contests, trust contests, challenges to the actions of a trustee, personal representative, executor, challenges to joint property, such as joint financial accounts, contested guardianships, contested conservatorships and litigation involving claims by creditors. Should you find yourself in one of these types of situations whether in Oakland County, Macomb County, Wayne County or anywhere else in Michigan, you should have a basic understanding of what these different probate litigation issues are. You should also have the peace of mind and confidence knowing that your attorney not only handles in probate litigation, but specializes in it.
If you find yourself in a situation where you suspect some wrongdoing related to an inheritance, or should you find yourself defending an inheritance after having been accused of acting inappropriately, you need to have a basic understanding of will and trust contests. More specifically, you need to understand what a will contest or trust contest is, how to challenge or defend a will or trust, and what basis a person might have for contesting a will under Michigan law. Some of the possible challenges to a will or a trust include:
Fraud – In Michigan, a will or trust can be challenged when it can be proved that a person was fraudulently induced into signing their will or trust through lies, trickery or deceptive acts. For example, if a decedent’s son places a document in front of his dad stating it is a form that needs to be signed for the mortgage on decedent’s home in Birmingham, Michigan, when in truth the form is actually a will or trust leaving everything to the son. Such an action would certainly be challengeable on the basis of fraud. While fraud can be difficult to prove, an attorney with experience in spotting issues related to fraud can better your chances at successful litigation.
Undue Influence – When a lawyer, family member, friend or confidant through immoral acts or tactics takes advantage of another in order to secure an advantageous provision in a will or trust, the will or trust could be challenged on the grounds of undue influence. In Michigan, a claim of undue influence also includes situations where an individual uses force or threats to get a person to write their will or trust a certain way. For example, if a decedent’s daughter threatens her mother in Oakland County, Michigan with physical harm if she doesn’t leave her one-hundred percent of her estate, that will or trust could be challenged for undue influence. Undue influence also includes situations where an individual improperly uses flattery or other tricks to cause a decedent to leave them money, the will or trust could be challenged. Again, having an experienced attorney who understands the law related to undue influence can be the difference between preserving an inheritance or losing it.
Lack of Testamentary Capacity – A person could not have understood what they were signing when their will or trust was executed due to Dementia, Alzheimer’s, Senility, medication, or some other mental capacity issue. For example, if a decedent in Detroit, Michigan executed a will after being medically diagnosed with organic brain damage where he did not know his name, the year, or where he was, the will or trust could be challenged. Lack of testamentary capacity can be a very difficult issue, as people may come in and out of competency as it relates to their wills and/or trusts.
You need to contest the will as early as possible in the probate process because there is not an unlimited amount of time to contest it. If you or someone you know is interested contesting a will, it would be best to consult an attorney to discuss your options.
When a will is created, the decedent chooses someone to act as their executor, or personal representative as it is known in Michigan. Likewise, when a trust is created, the decedent chooses someone they trust to act as the trustee. Trustees and personal representatives owe a fiduciary duty to any beneficiary of the will or trust. Often times, beneficiaries may believe that the personal representative or trustee is acting inappropriately. In such cases, litigation can ensue. Whether you are a beneficiary who is concerned about the actions of a trustee or beneficiary, or a trustee or personal representative who is being challenged, you need to have a competent probate litigation attorney to guide you through the process.
Fedor Camargo & Weston zealously represents the interests of personal representatives and beneficiaries’ by applying our knowledge of Michigan probate and estate law to protect beneficiaries’ rights and claims. We also represent individuals and corporations accused of breaching their fiduciary duty. Our years of knowledge and specialization in the probate litigation arena means that our attorneys know what strategies and tactics work best when pursuing or defending these claims.
Fedor, Camargo & Weston lawyers are experienced in the following probate and estate litigation areas:
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Fedor, Camargo & Weston PLC serves clients throughout the state of Michigan. FCW is a full service Estate Planning Law Firm specializing in fundamental estate planning, wills & trust planning, powers of attorney, elder law, Medicaid application & qualification, long-term care planning, probate & estate administration, probate litigation, civil litigation, estate & trust litigation, Medicaid crisis planning, special needs & disability planning, veterans benefits, Aid & Attendance qualification, charitable planning, estate tax planning, business succession and sales, and asset protection. FCW serves individuals, families and business owners throughout the Birmingham, Bloomfield, and Troy, Michigan areas, and all throughout the state of Michigan.
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