Appealing A Will Or A Trust

There will be times and situations during the probate process when you and your attorney may have to consider filing an appeal. Many people are unfamiliar with the probate process and are forced to navigate it during a highly emotional time. When people need to file an appeal, it is usually because someone is challenging the validity of either a will or a trust. Though the following is an extreme exaggeration, it does highlight how complex this situation can become. Imagine that someone has three children, no spouse, and the person who wrote the will exclude two of the three children. If the two children who have received nothing file an appeal and challenge the will’s validity, the fallout could be significant. With that in mind, knowing when and why you can file an appeal during probate is essential, but it should not be taken lightly. 


Why Would Someone File an Appeal?

The first reason someone would appeal would be due to a lack of testamentary capacity. This is rooted in the belief that the person who created the will or trust did not have the mental capacity to understand the ramifications of their actions. Anyone who drafts an estate planning document must understand what the will (or trust) accomplishes. They cannot have a mental illness that affects their ability to understand the value of their assets and how they will be distributed. 


Another common reason to file an appeal is that someone suspects undue influence was involved. This is when someone manipulates, deceives, or coerces the person making the will. Older adults who are ill or have diminished mental capacity could be taken advantage of by someone who wishes to inherit their assets. In some instances, this outside influence may be involved in generating or amending an estate planning document. In extreme cases, they may try to isolate the person from their family. Had they not exerted their influence, would the person who created the will arrive at the same result had they acted freely and independently? To win this appeal, your attorney must show that there is a causal link between the undue influence and the creation of the will or trust. 


Though we have mentioned it before, it is important to point out that Florida has precise legal requirements to be valid. When a person signs their will, it has to be in the presence of two competent witnesses. (This is a prime example of the risks people accept by creating DIY wills they find online or by using templates. When working with an attorney, these elements are not overlooked.) Even if the will was signed by someone who was not mentally diminished or was not unduly influenced, their will could only be valid if it was correctly executed. Despite their efforts to have a plan, their estate could be subjected to intestate laws, which may reflect something other than what their intentions were. 


Lastly, there may be arguments over the will’s interpretation. If the will’s language leads to ambiguity, the beneficiaries may have disputes over the meaning of specific provisions. In this case, an appeal could be filed for clarification and a formal resolution. 


Filing Appeals in Florida

Luis E. Barreto & Associates, P.A., is accustomed to helping clients in southern Florida by reviewing their situations and recommending whether they should file an appeal. Additionally, we have also assisted those fighting an appeal. Our attorneys have been doing this for over three decades, and we want to use our background and experience to help you with your case. Contact our office today to schedule a free consultation to continue this discussion.

Luis E. Barreto