A little over 2.6 million Americans pass on every year.
Of those who were old enough to have a will, around 55% left no will. There will also be a percentage of the existing wills that are questionably valid. These are just two possible reasons for probate litigation.
Before you jump into challenging a will, though, let’s look at why it’s important to hire a probate attorney.
Probate Litigation Can Cost You Any Inheritance
In order to prevent litigation, some people include no-contest clauses in their wills. The entire purpose of the clause is to punish anyone who challenges the will. If the challenge fails, the person receives nothing.
Say a widow leaves one son $70,000 in cash and a house. She leaves her other son $10,000 in cash.
The second son may feel slighted, but $10,000 and a no-contest clause gives him incentive not to challenge the will.
Say the second son feels angry enough that he wants to challenge the will anyway. Hiring an attorney does three important things.
The attorney can act as an impartial voice of reason about the risks of challenging a no-contest clause will. She can assess whether the will appears valid. She can provide a realistic sense of how likely the challenge is to fail.
Expertise in the Process
Each state has a process in place for probate litigation.
There is paperwork that needs to be filed and strict deadlines for filing it. Make any mistakes and the challenge is dead before it starts.
A probate attorney will know exactly what paperwork needs to be filed and how long they have to file it. Just as importantly, they’ll know how to do the paperwork properly and where it needs to be filed.
In a very real sense, your attorney is there to guide you through the bureaucracy and get the challenge in front of the judge. Your attorney will also know what is and isn’t permissible once you get in front of a judge.
Settle or Continue
It’s not unusual for the estate to offer to settle for some lesser amount than what the person challenging wants. This is another point in the process where an attorney can provide more objective advice.
For example, say your challenge isn’t especially strong. Your attorney may recommend that you take the settlement because your odds of winning aren’t great.
On the other hand, your attorney might recommend you continue if your challenge is quite strong. She might believe she can negotiate a higher offer if you wait.
Recognizing when a settlement is a good offer or when holding out is a good risk only comes with experience. A probate attorney offers that experience.
With so many people dying without wills or with questionably valid wills, probate litigation isn’t going away anytime soon.
If you are considering challenging a will, hiring a probate attorney is an important step. She’ll help you avoid mistakes with paperwork and deadlines. She’ll also serve as an objective sounding board for whether to begin at all and how far to take the challenge.
Hardesty Law Office assists fiduciaries and beneficiaries with the probate process. If you need assistance with a probate problem, contact us today.