Providing Compassionate Representation in Probate Proceedings – Greeneville Contested Wills Lawyers
When a family must cope with the grief and pain of a lost loved one, navigation of the South Carolina probate process often poses enormous financial hardships for those left behind. Even if the decedent has a will that is uncontested, skillful, and efficient administration of the estate can limit the delay in accessing necessary financial resources and property. At the De Bruin Law Firm, our attorneys are here to assist clients with the probate process. Whether you have been named a personal representative (executor) or you are a loved one who objects to a will or the conduct of a party administering an estate, we help our clients navigate the South Carolina probate process.
Our probate lawyers have handled many probate matters, so we understand the intense emotions that surround a conflict over a breach of fiduciary duty by a personal representative, conservator, trustee, or guardian; the well-being of a vulnerable loved one; or the validity of a will. We diligently pursue our clients’ interests while working to avoid increasing hostilities that might lead to permanent and regrettable family rifts. Our skill in negotiating the settlement of incapacity disputes, contested inheritance cases, breach of fiduciary duty issues, and other matters promotes the results our client wants while mitigating unnecessary animosity. Despite our commitment to promoting family harmony, our lawyers are prepared to tenaciously advocate for our clients when pursuing or defending a contested probate matter.
Estate Planning Can Eliminate the Need for Probate
When a loved one dies, the first consideration in estate administration involves whether probate is necessary. If the decedent has a living trust or only assets subject to a right of survivorship (e.g. house in joint tenancy with right of survivorship, joint bank account, beneficiaries designated in an insurance policy), or an estate under $25,000, administration of the estate can be conducted outside probate. When our clients seek estate planning advice, we explore options like a living trust that can mitigate the cost, delay, and lack of privacy associated with probate proceedings.
Whether you wish to create or update an estate plan or you have questions about the administration of an estate, our attorneys can analyze your situation and advise you regarding probate avoidance or estate administration. If your loved one died without an estate planning device like a will or trust, then intestacy proceedings must be commenced to handle the estate administration. Similarly, probate must be opened when the decedent relies on a will rather than a trust as the primary estate planning tool. After we have assessed whether your situation requires probate, we can guide you through every step of the estate administration process, which includes:
- Pursuing appointment of a personal representative (executor)
- Gathering and evaluating assets and property of the estate
- Locating and identifying heirs
- Determining and paying valid debts and tax liabilities
- Liquidating property and assets to generate cash to pay estate obligations and taxes
- Distributing the net estate property, cash, and assets to the designated heirs and beneficiaries
Our South Carolina probate law firm works diligently to expedite the estate administration process, limit costs, and facilitate prompt access to estate assets. Our attorneys are committed to providing sound estate planning advice to mitigate probate expenses, preserve privacy, and accelerate access to a decedent’s assets through use of effective estate planning tools. However, we recognize the importance of efficiency to promote these goals during probate administration.
Commencing the South Carolina Probate Process
While the court can provide you with forms to file to commence the probate process, the court cannot provide information regarding completion of the forms, supporting documents, parties that must receive notice, important deadlines, or other legal issues. Our law firm can guide a personal representative through the probate process or represent an heir who alleges a breach of fiduciary duty or who objects to the disposition of assets. Our South Carolina probate attorneys have experience built on decades of handling probate proceedings, so we have the knowledge and skill to effectively navigate all aspects of the probate process.
When a person dies without preparing a will or living trust, South Carolina intestacy law governs the probate process rather than the intentions of the decedent. If the decedent was a primary breadwinner, surviving family members will be challenged in maintaining their lifestyle and could even struggle to pay basic living expenses like the mortgage, utilities, groceries, etc. The personal representative that handles the administration of the estate also will be selected by the probate judge.
Contested Wills, Trusts & Other Litigated Probate Proceedings
While many states recognize “no contest clauses,” South Carolina courts will enforce such provision only if there is probable cause supporting a challenge of the will. Circumstances that include a last minute change of a will, especially during a time of serious illness or another infirmity, might give rise to suspicions regarding the testamentary capacity of a loved one. When a family member suffers from depression, dementia, mental illness, over-medication, or Alzheimer’s disease, debilitation could make a loved one particularly vulnerable to improper influences or errors. Probate proceedings also might need to be contested when personal representatives violate their fiduciary duties in the administration of the estate.
Our law firm represents beneficiaries and heirs, as well as personal representatives in contested probate proceedings. The permissible grounds for contesting a will in South Carolina include the following:
- Fraud: When the testator makes a decision about the terms or execution of a will, such as omitting a person who would normally inherit based on false statements about the decedent, fraud might be a legitimate basis to challenge the will.
- Duress & Undue Influence: These grounds are similar but generally involve a beneficiary who pressures, manipulates, or controls a testator to execute or modify a will or trust. When a predatory friend, caregiver, friend, or other individual uses excessive insistence, fraud, or deception to induce last-minute changes to a will, this might provide a legitimate grounds for a challenge in probate court.
- Common Law Marriage: South Carolina is one of a few states that still recognizes common law marriage, which includes the right to one-third of an estate without a valid waiver. State law imposes specific requirements to establish a common law marriage, so you should speak to one of our experienced South Carolina probate attorneys if you have questions about contesting a will based on common law marriage.
- Lack of Capacity: This basis for contesting a will is based on the mental condition of the decedent. Conditions like dementia, intoxication, Alzheimer’s, or other forms of mental debilitation at the time of creation or execution of the will could justify challenging the will.
- Misappropriation of Funds or Misconduct by a Personal Representative: When the personal representative acts in their own interest, this could merit a challenge of the will.
- 12th Hour Changes to a Trust or Will: A will also can be challenged based on significant twelfth-hour changes.
- Lost or Missing Will: In South Carolina, a lost or missing will is presumed to have been revoked.
- Improper Formalities or Execution: The law imposes specific mandatory requirements that must be observed for a will to be executed and valid. For example, a will can be challenged when an interested party (e.g. a beneficiary) serves as a witness of the execution of the will.
When conflicts occur during the probate process, our Greenville, SC probate lawyers provide the benefits of significant litigation experience when representing the interests of individuals or families. Our expertise and skill in effectively navigating the probate process can provide assistance with the following issues:
- Will Contests
- Trust Contests
- Undue Influence Litigation (plaintiff or defendant)
- Asset Distribution Litigation
Contact Our Experienced South Carolina Probate Administration Lawyer
Our South Carolina estate administration attorneys effectively advocate for the interests of our clients through diligent effort, creative litigation strategies, and persuasiveness in the courtroom. The De Bruin Law Firm is committed to the principle that all clients deserve exemplary legal representation. To schedule a free case review, we invite you to call us today at (864) 982-5930.
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