What to Do if You Are Being Sued Over Your Inheritance

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Lawsuits between family members are some of the hardest to endure. Even if you win, your relationship with your family will be affected. Losing could bring with it substantial financial consequences. So what can you do if you are being sued over your inheritance? What option do you have if your family member sues to collect from a loved one’s estate?

Can You Sue for Inheritance?

If you are someone who would naturally expect to inherit from a deceased’s estate, you have the ability to sue for inheritance, in certain limited cases. Interested parties – such as a person’s surviving spouse and natural heirs have the ability (called “standing”) to challenge a Will. Surviving spouses have the right to claim an elective share and to exempt the family home and certain other property from alternative provisions of the Will. These elections override the deceased’s Will, ensuring you will inherit something after your spouse dies. Dependents, such as the deceased’s minor children, also have the right to claim support and certain exemptions while the probate case is being litigated.

In most other cases, if you sue for an inheritance what you are actually doing is asking for the Florida Probate Court to set aside the deceased person’s Will and either enforce an earlier version of their estate plan, or apply the state’s intestate succession laws. Before deciding to sue for inheritance in this way, you should consult a probate attorney to determine if a Will challenge could be successful, and what you stand to gain if you file it.

What to Do if You are Being Sued Over Your Inheritance

But what if you are on the other side? What if you are expecting to receive an inheritance and are being sued for it?

Hire Your Own Probate Lawyer

The first thing you need to do when you learn you are being sued over your inheritance is to hire your own probate litigation attorney. Unless you are the personal representative, don’t rely on the estate to represent your interests. Under Florida law, a personal representative must not give preference to any one beneficiary over another. While the personal representative may defend the validity of a Will, they are not allowed to defend your interests, specifically.

Hiring your own probate lawyer ensures that you have direct assistance in understanding the laws being applied, and will have someone directly advocating for your inheritance and best interests.

Gather Your Records

If you are being sued for your inheritance, it is likely that a family member or other beneficiary believes you are receiving more than your fair share. You will want to gather all the necessary documentation to defend against the lawsuit. This starts with the estate plan – usually a Will or trust document. You may need to request a copy from the personal representative, or even directly from the Court. You should also collect any communications you received about your share of the inheritance, and any bank records, copies of checks, or other proof of the money you have already received.

Prepare Your Legal Defense

Your probate lawyer can review all the necessary documents and prepare your strongest defense. Often, this starts with a careful reading of the Will itself. But it may also include an investigation into the deceased’s mental state, or their financial circumstances leading up to their death.

This is especially true if you are being sued for “undue influence” – where the person suing you says you coerced your loved one into entering a new estate plan for your benefit. In undue influence cases, the person accused of procuring the fraudulent estate plan often has the burden of proving the Will is valid and that they did not act inappropriately in assisting the deceased in preparing their estate plan. It is essential to work with a probate lawyer with experience in these kinds of cases.

Negotiate Potential Settlements

Because lawsuits over inheritance are almost always between people with loved ones in common they can be highly emotional and have a lasting effect on your relationships. If you have been sued over your inheritance, work with your probate attorney to identify options for settlement out of court. This can help minimize the strain on your family, and make sure everyone is provided for – even the person suing you – without the cost and burden of going to trial.

Attend Depositions and Hearings

If you are being sued over your inheritance, you should expect that you will need to attend several probate court hearings, and may be called in to perform a deposition. A deposition is an out-of-court meeting where the other attorney asks a party or potential witness questions under oath. The proceeding is recorded and can be used later if the witness’s testimony changes or becomes unavailable at trial. Because they are adversarial, depositions and trials can be stressful. Your probate lawyer can help you prepare for depositions and hearings and discuss strategies you can use to remain calm and testify clearly and consistently.

Trust Your Lawyer to Advocate Your Case

Often, the issues around challenging a Will are highly technical. They may have little to do with you, and more to do with the deceased’s actions prior to their death. As much as you may want to “have your day in court,” you should trust your probate lawyer to advocate in your defense. The best way out of a lawsuit over your inheritance may not require you to testify at all. Work with your attorney to understand the issues, and your role in defending your inheritance in court.

Get Help Defending a Florida Probate Lawsuit Over Inheritance

Filing or defending against a Will challenge can be complicated and emotionally taxing. At Harrison Estate Law, P.A., our experienced estate and probate team can help you defend against a lawsuit over inheritance, and find a resolution that protects your interests, and your relationship with your family. If you don’t live close to Gainesville, we are happy to set up a phone or Zoom call. We also offer extended evening and weekend appointments by request to suit your schedule. Please contact us online or via email or call 352-559-9828 to schedule a free consultation.

Categories: Probate