The transfer of wealth that occurs when a loved one dies can be challenging. This is especially true when there is disagreement over the decedent’s estate planning, finances, or business succession.
Poole Brooke Plumlee has an experienced team of estate litigators who understand the legal challenges, nuances, and complexities involved in trust and estate litigation in Virginia. We regularly represent fiduciaries, agents, trustees, executors, conservators, beneficiaries, spouses, and elderly clients. Our comprehensive knowledge of trust and estate matters allows us special insight into litigation in these areas.
Our experienced attorneys also have extensive business and real estate litigation experience that compliments their understanding of estate law. Having an attorney and advocate who understands this complex area of law in the Commonwealth is extremely valuable to clients seeking representation.
Common Areas of Estate Litigation
Estate litigation is a broad phrase that encompasses a wide range of different legal actions. We can assist you in the areas outlined below.
Probate Litigation and Disputes
Family members often argue over the distribution of assets or other provisions of a will left by a deceased relative. These arguments often result in someone contesting the will or igniting beneficiary disputes. We assist beneficiaries as well as executors in all aspects of probate disputes and litigation, including legal advice, document requests, and legal representation in probate and Circuit courts.
Trust Disputes and Litigation
Attorneys at our firm have extensive experience in a broad range of administrative and court proceedings related to trust and estate litigation. We have helped clients challenge trusts and represented trustees in accounting disputes and alleged breaches of trust. We have also represented beneficiaries, including charitable organizations, in contested estate matters.
Guardianship and Conservatorship Disputes
An adult guardianship or conservatorship is created when a Virginia circuit court determines that a person is unable to manage his or her own personal or financial affairs and appoints a guardian and/or conservator for that person.
Poole Brooke Plumlee estate litigation attorneys have experience assisting those in need of a guardian or conservator appointed by the Court for a loved one, as well as those who find themselves in a dispute regarding the actions of an appointed guardian or conservator.
Guardianship and conservatorship disputes can arise at every stage, starting with the difficult conversations that must be had when loved ones begin to exhibit signs of impairment and no powers of attorney are in place. Within a family, there may be disagreements about which family member should be given decision-making authority, or there may be disputes about the activities of the guardian or conservator. Our experienced and compassionate estate litigators can help you achieve a resolution that is in the best interests of your vulnerable loved one. Our experienced and compassionate estate litigators can help you achieve a resolution that is in the best interests of your vulnerable or incapacitated loved one.
Fiduciaries have a duty of loyalty and prudence. A fiduciary must act in good faith in the best interests of the beneficiaries, be impartial in weighing the conflicting interests of different beneficiaries, avoid conflicts of interest, and cannot self-deal or act on behalf of themselves. In addition, a fiduciary must act and manage assets with the degree of care, skill, and caution that a prudent person would in the same circumstances. In the trusts and estates area, trustees, executors, personal representatives, and agents under a power of attorney are all fiduciaries. A fiduciary who breaches these duties may be held accountable through a breach of fiduciary duty action. Poole Brooke Plumlee represents fiduciaries accused of breaching their duty and beneficiaries encountering fiduciary issues like breach of loyalty, self-dealing, prudence, and conflicts of interest.
Virginia law defines undue influence as when a testator’s free will is destroyed by an influencer who has a close relationship with the testator. Common examples include an adult caregiver or adult child persuading their elderly parent to disinherit other children or family members. The theory is one of the most common ways to attack a will or trust, especially in cases where the testator may have a lack of capacity. We can help you protect your rights if undue influence has left you disinherited or protect your valid will from such claims.
A large number of older adults have spent their lives acquiring assets and establishing an estate. This, combined with the fact that some members of the elder community suffer some lack of mental capacity which can make it difficult for them to understand and appreciate their finances, makes them ideal targets for financial exploitation. Let us help you protect a vulnerable loved one from the dishonorable intentions of another party.
I Was Disinherited. Can I Challenge the Will?
It’s possible. In Virginia, there are several grounds for invalidating a will. They include:
- Lack of Testamentary Capacity. You may be able to prove that at the time the will was executed, the person who signed it did not fully understand what they were doing, due to illness, mental incompetency, or a similar lack of capacity. In that case, a judge or jury may declare the will invalid.
- Undue Influence. Threats or pressure from another person can lead to undue influence. Examples include threatening to stop caring for the individual if they don’t revise their will or turning them against family members.
- Fraud. Some common forms of fraud in relation to wills are lying about family members to encourage disinheriting or persuading an elderly person to sign a ‘document’ that is really a will.
- The Will Does Not Meet Legal Requirements. Virginia law has specific requirements for wills, including having them witnessed and signed. If any of these formal requirements are not met, the will may be declared invalid.
If you are considering challenging a will, you should consult with an experienced estate planning and litigation attorney at our law firm.
I’m the Executor for a Will Being Challenged. What Can I Do?
The executor (also known as a personal representative) is responsible for handling the estate of a deceased person. Anyone wishing to challenge a will in court can sue the executor, but under Virginia law, executors can often use estate assets to pay for an attorney to represent them when they are seeking to uphold the validity of the will.
If you have been named executor and believe someone may challenge the will, you should contact an experienced estate litigation lawyer as soon as possible. A lawyer at Poole Brooke Plumlee can advise you of your legal rights and develop a plan for preventing or defending a lawsuit.
Someone Unsuitable is Trying to Be Appointed My Parent’s Guardian and Conservator. What Can I Do?
In Virginia, a person can file a competing petition for the appointment of a different guardian/conservator from the one proposed by the other person. When making decisions, judges will generally consider factors such as the suitability of each proposed guardian or conservator and the best interests of the person involved.
Factors that the courts may consider include:
- How often each proposed guardian has visited or cared for the person
- How often they can care for the person
- Each proposed guardian’s character
- The person’s own preferences
If you need to contest someone else’s petition to be appointed guardian or conservator, you should contact the experienced estate litigation attorneys at Poole Brooke Plumlee as early as possible to enhance your chances of success.
Do You Need to Speak to a Virginia Trust and Estate Litigation Lawyer?
Estate litigation can be highly complex, both in terms of assets and personalities involved. The experienced attorneys at Poole Brooke Plumlee have extensive experience representing beneficiaries, executors, and administrators in estate disputes and can find creative solutions to these problems. Contact us today for more information on how we can assist you with your estate litigation needs.