“We know how much hardship a will contest dispute with your family or others can cause. Take it easy on yourself, and hire the competent and aggressive will contest lawyers at Romano & Sumner.”
Experienced Will Contest Attorneys Serving Sugar Land, Houston and the Surrounding Areas
The death of a loved one initiates a period of grieving. Unfortunately, this stress is rendered even more difficult by pressing legal matters that must be dealt with in order to fairly distribute your loved one’s assets. The harsh reality is that will contests among family members or – other interested parties – can and do arise. And when they do, they hit hard, because they hit at a time when everyone is emotional and vulnerable. This can turn a time of grieving into a time of utter turmoil, and that’s difficult for everyone involved.
In many cases it may be alleged that the will is invalid because it is a forgery, or because it failed to comply with legal formalities. This is particularly likely if the will was executed in another state but is being probated in Texas. In other cases, the allegation may be that your loved one lacked the mental capacity to dispose of his assets, or that the will failed to reflect his true intentions.
Finding Your Way Out of the Probate Maze
Probate law is notoriously complex, and it becomes even more complex the moment a dispute arises. This complexity is not limited to legal dimensions. You may harbor serious concerns about the wisdom of protracted litigation, particularly if the will’s beneficiaries need money quickly or if family relations are deteriorating because of the dispute.
At Romano & Sumner, we have seen all of this before, and you have our sympathies. If you so choose, however, we offer more than just our sympathies. We offer our decades of combined experience in resolving will contests in a manner that optimizes both your financial interests and the personal concerns that inevitably arise when a loved one has passed.
Testimonial from Our Client
(Translated by Google) My name is Ruth Zimmerhanzel, I am a Christian, widow, and mother of the family. I had the privilege and blessing of having the lawyer Paul Romano represent me. It is worth mentioning that his professional ethics, honesty, determination, and experience in litigation is very worthy of admiration.
After the painful loss of my beloved husband, in a foreign country it was extremely difficult to find someone whom I could trust and who spoke Spanish. But God in his love and mercy allowed me to meet one of the most noble lawyers which I have ever known before.
God bless you always, again, thank you very much. — Ruth Zimmerhanzel
- Estate Litigation: Estate litigation, not limited to will contests, often involves disputes among family members who may still be distraught over the loss of a loved one. On other occasions, litigation is initiated by an estate creditor. Regardless of the circumstances, a cool head and a firm grasp of Texas law is needed to reach an optimal solution.
- Estate Taxes: While the state of Texas imposes no estate tax at the moment, these taxes are levied by the federal government on the estates of certain relatively wealthy individuals. We can help ease the burden of estate taxation with appropriate tax planning. We can also provide legal representation for you during the probate process.
- Probate Administration: The probate period can be a stressful time in anyone’s life. Nevertheless, if your loved one died with significant assets, certain legal tasks must be done. The filing of estate tax returns is an example of a task that simply must be performed in order to effectuate your loved one’s estate plan, comply with Texas law, and ensure the fair treatment of beneficiaries.
- Guardianship: Courts appoint guardians to exercise legal authority and responsibility over certain minors and incapacitated adults. A hearing is required, and the person over whom guardianship will be exercised is entitled to representation. The guardianship process can be extremely confusing and complex without the assistance of an experienced Texas guardianship lawyer.
- Asset Protection: If you have significant debts, your assets could be placed at risk if you default on them. Playing cat and mouse with your creditors is not a good idea, since you could easily run afoul of the law that way. If you plan ahead, however, you can take advantage of certain legal methods to maximize the protection of your assets from creditors.
- Business Law: Business and the law are intertwined about as closely as any two activities can be. A business needs legal expertise for:
- business formation,
- contract drafting,
- tax issues,
- intellectual property enforcement,
- buying and selling company shares or assets,
- bankruptcy, and
- dissolution and distribution of assets – among other issues.
- Business Litigation: Business litigation is what much of business law is designed to avoid. Once a dispute breaks out, however, you have choices to make. Under certain circumstances, you may seek total victory (such as when a competitor violates your trademark rights). Under other circumstances, you may prefer a negotiated solution that preserves your business relationship.
We also practice in related areas of law including trust litigation, guardianship litigation, estate planning, tax controversies, gift tax issues and trademark law.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What are the time limits for contesting a will?
To contest a will:
- you must act within two years after the date that the will is probated,
- if you were a minor when the will was probated, you have until your 20th birthday to act,
- If you were a servicemember when the will was probated, you typically have until 2 years after termination of service to file a contest, and
- in cases of fraud there is no formal time limit, as long as you act with reasonable haste after detecting the fraud.
Who is qualified to contest a will?
To contest a will, you must be an “interested person” – a person who stands to gain or lose from the way the deceased person’s estate is distributed. An interested person might be an heir, devisee, spouse or even a creditor. The “interest” does not even have to be financial – it can include, for example, an interest in the welfare of an incapacitated person whose guardianship is provided for in the will.
What is a holographic will?
A holographic will is a will written completely in the handwriting of the testator (the person whose property is being distributed) and signed by the testator. Holographic wills are excused from the formalities associated with attested wills, such as the requirement that a will be signed by witnesses.
What is “testamentary capacity”?
The testator of a will has “testamentary capacity” when he possesses the mental capacity to understand:
- that she is creating a will,
- the effect of making a will (the disposition of her property after she dies),
- the “nature and extent” of her property,
- the identity of her next of kin and other “natural objects of her bounty”.
Her mind must also be able to form reasonable judgments.
What is “undue influence”?
Undue influence occurs when the testator, at the time of the execution of his will, is subject to an influence (usually a person) that overpowers or subverts his mind to the extent that the will would not have been executed without that influence. Undue influence can be used to invalidate a will.
Can an estate executor or administrator recover attorney’s fees he has spent on behalf of the estate?
Yes. Under the Texas Estates Code, an executor or administrator can recover amounts that he has spent on behalf of the estate, as long as they are “reasonable and necessary.” These amounts include but are not limited to attorney’s fees. The money comes out of estate assets.
When does a will become binding?
A will does not become binding when it is executed (signed by the testator and any required witnesses), because it can still be changed later. A will becomes binding only after the testator dies and the will is admitted to probate.
Is the estate executor or administrator the only person qualified to file for probate of a will?
Although the executor named in the will is certainly qualified to file for probate of the will, any “interested person” is also qualified to probate it.
What are the typical grounds for contesting a will?
The most common grounds for contesting a will are:
- Lack of testamentary capacity
- Undue influence
- Lack of testamentary intent (the testator did not intend the document to operate as a will)
- Lack of proper formalities (signatures of witnesses, for example)
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As a small firm, we can guarantee you personalized attention.
- We will not delegate your case to a lightly supervised junior associate like most large law firms routinely do.
- We will return your phone calls within one business day.
- We will keep you up-to-date on the progress of your case.
- We will complete your case in a timely manner.
These are our duties, and we undertake them with utmost seriousness.
Are You Involved in a Will Contest? Now is the Time to Contact Our Driven Attorneys
It is said that the glue of circumstances hardens quickly around your feet. If you are involved in a will contest, or if you anticipate such a dispute arising, you need to act as quickly as possible to prepare for the storm that is likely to follow.
Contact the estate contest attorneys at Romano & Sumner at your earliest convenience to schedule a free initial consultation, where we can learn about your case and discuss your options with you. We can be reached either online or by telephone at (281) 242-0995.
The trial attorneys at Romano & Sumner have experience in handling a variety of will contest matters.
Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?
- Mother with Alzheimer’s or Dementia signed a new will just weeks before she died leaving everything to one child while cutting out other children who were included under a prior will. (See below – Lack of Testamentary Capacity).
- Daughter falsely claims that her brother has been stealing from their father causing father to change his will in favor of daughter. (See below – Fraud in the Inducement).
- After father’s death sister produces a recently signed will that cuts out other children with a signature that looks suspicious. (See below – Fraud).
- One child takes over caring for a parent at the end of parent’s life, prevents other children from visiting parent, and then produces a will after parent’s death that leaves everything to the caregiver child. (See below – Undue Influence).
- Son who lives close to mother manipulates mother into changing her will to cut out other children who live farther away by threatening to stop caring for mother. (See below – Undue Influence).
If your answer is yes, then the Sugar Land estate and will contest attorneys at Romano and Sumner are here to provide you with guidance. Continue reading for a more in-depth discussion of how to contest a will in Texas.
Who Can Contest a Will in Texas?
Any “interested” person may contest the probate of a will. An Interested Person is defined in Texas to include:
- Heirs (generally children or grandchildren of a deceased child),
- Devisees (someone who is named as a beneficiary in a will),
- Spouses, or
- Any other person or entity having a property right in or claim against the estate.
For more information on whether you can contest a will, contact our dedicated will contest attorneys at Romano & Sumner.
How do you Contest a Will in Texas?
The contesting party files what is called a “will contest” which challenges the will by alleging one or more grounds that make the will invalid.
On what Grounds can you Contest a Will in Texas?
Challenging a will in Texas is generally accomplished under one of the following theories:
- Revocation by Physical Act: The testator may revoke a will by some physical act such as tearing the will in half.
- Revocation by Subsequent Instrument: The testator may revoke a will by executing another document that qualifies as a will or simply by signing a document that states that he or she is revoking the will.
- Lack of Testamentary Capacity: If the testator did not have sufficient “testamentary capacity” at the time the will was executed, the will is void. Generally, at the time the will was executed, the testator must have 1) understood he or she was signing a will, 2) understood that the will was a legal document that gave instructions for distribution of the testator’s assets upon death (and understood the plan), 3) understood the general nature and extent of the testator’s property, and 4) known who were his or her next of kin (family).
- Lack of Due Execution: There are certain statutory formalities that must be met when executing a will (e.g., the will may not have been properly witnessed or signed).
- Undue Influence: The will may be challenged if the testator executed the will as a result of undue influence (e.g., one child pressures the testator to sign a will leaving everything to them and nothing to the testator’s other children).
- Fraud: This includes the forging of the testator’s or witnesses’ signatures. It also includes the substitution of pages after the signing of the will.
- Fraud in the Inducement: When someone changes their will based on lies told to them by another person (usually about the beneficiaries of the prior will) then the will has been “induced” by fraud and may be challenged on this ground.
- Mistake: This includes situations where the testator did not know he or she was signing a will.
If you need help determining the grounds on which you should contest a will, contact our will contest lawyers at Romano & Sumner for advice on your specific case.
When can a Will be Contested in Texas and how long do I have to file a will contest?
In addition to filing a contest before a will is admitted to probate, a contestant may file a will contest within two years after the will has been admitted to probate.
How Much does it Cost to Contest a Will?
Our will contest attorneys handle the contest of wills on both an hourly and contingency fee basis.
- Hourly Fee – If our firm handles your will contest on an hourly fee basis then you pay for our services on an hourly rate. You will also be responsible for paying for expenses as those expenses are incurred.
- Contingency Fee – If your will contest is handled on a contingency fee basis then you agree to share a percentage of any recovery with our firm; however, you do not pay unless we collect. Each case is different so call us to get an estimate on what it might cost to represent you in your particular situation.
No Contest Clauses
Prior to contesting the will, a contestant should examine the will in question to determine whether it contains a “no contest” clause. If the will does contain a no contest clause, the contestant should evaluate what impact the no contest clause will have on his or her inheritance should the contest prove unsuccessful (e.g., complete forfeiture of any inheritance). The Texas will contest lawyers at Romano and Sumner can assist you with this evaluation.
For a free initial consultation with experienced Sugar Land will contest legal team who can advise you on contesting a will in Texas, please call us at 281 242-0995 or contact our Houston law offices.
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