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Determination of Rightful Heirs

Ocala Attorneys Skilled in Trust and Probate Litigation

At the Dean Law Firm, our probate litigation lawyers have litigated many types of cases in the Ocala area, including those involving will contests. We have the experience and resources to guide you through any dispute that arises after a loved one's death. One common issue involves determining the rightful heirs after someone passes away. This dispute may arise after the contents of a will, a trust, or another estate planning document are revealed, and one or more family members do not believe the document accurately reflects the deceased person's wishes. If you believe you are the rightful heir to a loved one's estate, you should consult an attorney to explore your potential options.

Determining the Rightful Heirs of an Estate

Probate is the process of administering the property of somebody who has passed away according to his or her last will and testament, or according to the rules of intestate succession when there is no will or a will is found to be invalid. The probate court is concerned with determining the decedent's rightful heirs, as well as ensuring a decedent's financial obligations are met and transferring legal title in the decedent's property to the heirs. Formal probate and summary probate are the two main forms of probate. The former is filed when the value of the estate is greater than $75,000. The latter is filed when the total estate is under $75,000 or when a decedent died two or more years before the filing date.

In some cases, a decedent's will or trust is invalid. Without a valid will, the rightful heirs will be determined by the rules of intestate succession. These rules allow the surviving spouse to receive the entire estate if the decedent did not leave behind any descendants. If there are descendants, usually the surviving spouse and surviving children share in the assets of a deceased person's estate. When there is no surviving spouse, or any surviving children, the estate's assets pass to the parents. If there are no surviving parents, the next in line to inherit under intestate succession rules are the decedent's siblings.

In other cases, a will or trust is unreliable because it contradicts or changes the terms of prior wills or similar documents. In some cases, this is the result of undue influence on the testator (the maker of the will), while in other cases a testator may have lacked the full mental capacity to understand what was happening when he or she signed the will. It is all too common for wealthy but vulnerable elderly people to be preyed upon in Florida by individuals hoping to manipulate them in order to be named in a will or trust. The rightful heirs may be cut off because the decedent suffered a mental illness or age-related cognitive decline. If someone coerced, manipulated, or threatened an elderly decedent to change his or her will, it may be possible for the rightful heir to file a will contest, challenging the changed version.

Contact an Estate Planning Lawyer in Ocala to Protect Your Rights

At the Dean Law Firm, our estate planning attorneys understand that residents of Ocala and other Florida communities may be anxious when coping with a loved one's death, and that dealing with expected changes to a will or trust can be disturbing. You may need to file paperwork to obtain a judicial determination of rightful heirs. We have years of experience helping individuals contest wills throughout Florida, such as in Crystal River, the Villages, and throughout Marion, Sumter, Lake, Citrus, and Levy Counties. Call us at 352-387-8700 or contact us via our online form.