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What if My Loved One Gave Me Something That Their Family Now Wants Back?

Redding Law Office  Oct. 11, 2023

Disputes over inheritances are not uncommon. In general, when someone passes on in Texas, their assets must go through a legal process known as probate, supervised by a court. No assets are to be distributed before the process is completed. 

However, some family members, or others -- who consider themselves beneficiaries -- may decide to start dividing up what they believe should be theirs. Of course, this can lead to arguments. 

If you’re involved in an estate dispute in or around Southland, Texas, contact the Redding Law Office. Attorney Chelsea Redding will meet with you and address all your estate planning questions and concerns, including those involving disputes over inheritances.  

She will also help you make concrete plans to take care of your loved ones through a will or living trust, or both in some cases. Reach out if you’re anywhere in Tarrant County or Denton County as well as in the surrounding cities of Flower Mound, Keller, and Colleyville. 

Proper Estate Planning Can Help Prevent Disputes and Challenges

Everything you accumulate in your life that is in your name or in your sole possession becomes what is known as your estate when you pass on. If you die without a will, this is known as dying intestate. The estate will still likely have to go through probate, where the presiding judge will rule on who gets what, using Texas’s law of intestate succession. This begins with any surviving spouse and children. If there is no spouse or children, the process can get complicated. 

Assets held jointly with others, such as a primary residence with the right of survivorship for your spouse or partner on title will transfer outside of probate. So will retirement accounts and insurance policies with a named beneficiary. 

Valuable sports memorability collections would be considered assets of the estate. So would a boat or vehicle in your name only. Those kinds of items, including any securities held in your name – even money in your bank account – could become disputes. 

A living trust goes a big step beyond a simple will. First, it avoids probate. Second, it contains all your assets in a binding legal sense. You assign your assets into the trust, and while you’re alive, you are the trustee who oversees and administrates your estate. Also, you name a successor trustee who will take over administration if you become incapacitated or pass away. The trust document also names who gets what when you’re gone. 

A living trust is just that – it’s legal viable the moment you create it, unlike a will that has no power until you die, and it is presented to a probate court. 

Dying without a will or living trust pretty much leaves everything up to the judge and their interpretation of the law of intestate succession. A will is the basic building block in making sure what you have is distributed as per your wishes. A lot, however, will depend on the personal representative/executor or trustee you name, and the clarity and legality of the instructions in your will or trust. 

Common Disputes

When it comes to wills, the most common disputes are their legality and whether someone exerted undue influence on the creator and signer of the document, known as the testator in legal terms. When a will goes into probate, those named in the will, or in a previous version of the will, your heirs, your creditors, and even your executor can challenge the will. 

Sometimes, it is argued that it is not the latest version, or that one sibling of yours, or a friend or relative of the testator, exerted undue influence, so that they could get the lion’s share, or perhaps the most valuable asset. 

Undue influence charges can also arise over issues of the mental competency of the testator. You’ve all no doubt heard the phrase “of sound mind.” Creating a will does require mental competence, but sometimes even people with memory problems or even with some stages of dementia can still be mentally fit enough to know what they’re doing when they create – or revise – their will. 

Possible Remedies for Estate Disputes

Not only can heirs and other interested parties (creditors, etc.) challenge the legality or recency of a will, but those named in the will can challenge the executor and have that person replaced if they are found not to be properly observing their fiduciary responsibilities.  

The best way to deal with disputes is before they happen. Create your will or trust with an experienced attorney who can keep a copy of it and testify to your mental competence and to the version of the copy being brought to probate proceedings. The wording in these documents also must be crystal clear to prevent confusion over what your intentions are. An attorney can help make sure your document expresses everything both precisely and legally. 

Personal and Professional Advocacy: The Redding Law Office

If an estate dispute has arisen, or you’re looking to create or revise an estate plan you already have in place, contact the Redding Law Office. Attorney Chelsea Redding will spend time getting to know you and what you value in life, so she can help you tailor your estate plan to better express your wishes.

The Redding Law Office proudly serves clients not only in Southland, Texas, but also anywhere in Tarrant County or Denton County as well as in the surrounding cities of Flower Mound, Keller, and Colleyville.