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Probate Litigation Attorney in Green Bay, Wisconsin

The probate process is, no doubt, a stressful experience. Executors, often unprepared for the emotions and sibling rivalry or even family dynamics it can stir, must undergo a meticulous process to settle an estate while safeguarding their loved one's final wishes.  

Our dependable legal team at Lewis & Van Sickle, LLC can help you through probate litigation and equip you, the executor, with the knowledge to traverse with confidence through the legal landscape it entails. 

Our firm proudly helps clients across Green Bay and throughout Oconto, Shawano, Kewaunee, and Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. Schedule a consultation today to get the guidance you need during these challenging times.  

Understanding Probate Litigation 

Probate—the term alone might conjure images of courtrooms and legal jargon, where the worlds of wills, trusts, and estate settlements intertwine. While this legal process is crucial in ensuring that a deceased person's assets are distributed according to their estate plan (or the law), it also provides fertile ground for disputes that can lead to what's known as probate litigation. 

Probate is the legal process by which a deceased person's assets are distributed under court supervision. The key actor in this process is the executor, entrusted with the responsibilities of marshaling the estate, paying debts and taxes, and distributing the estate's assets as directed by the decedent's will.

However, it's what happens around these duties that can lead to probate litigation, a legal contest filed in probate court. 

The Executor's Guide 

For those facing the role of an executor, a solid understanding of probate and its potential pitfalls is paramount. Here's a deeper look into what the role entails. 

The responsibilities of an executor are multi-faceted and nuanced, ranging from locating, inventorying, and appraising the decedent's property to resolving disputes and settling the estate's final accounts. This role holds significant power and, as such, requires a steady hand and an understanding of the legal and financial implications of the decisions at hand. 

Executors are fiduciaries, which means they have a legal duty to act in the best interest of the estate and its beneficiaries. This includes avoiding conflicts of interest, maintaining transparent communication with heirs, and ensuring that the estate is settled efficiently and impartially. 

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Common Issues Leading to Probate Litigation 

Probate litigation can arise for many reasons, each as unique as the family dynamics at play. Here are some of the most common triggers: 

  • Contentious Wills and Trusts: One of the most frequent sources of probate litigation occurs when the validity of a will or trust is called into question. Reasons for such contestations may include lack of capacity, undue influence, or fraud. 

  • Family Feuds and Dysfunctions: High-conflict families or situations where expectations differ greatly from bequests can lead to legal battles over the estate's distribution. 

  • Mismanaged or Disreputable Executors: Executors who fail to act in the best interest of the estate, through malfeasance or neglect, can find themselves mired in legal disputes. 

Steps in Probate Litigation 

But what happens when disputes escalate to the level of probate litigation? This section sheds light on the legal process and what to expect: 

  1. Challenging the Estate in Court: The formal party who contests the will or trust is referred to as the challenger or petitioner. They do so via filing a lawsuit in probate court, and the burden lies on them to provide sufficient evidence to support their claim. 

  1. The Discovery Phase: Similar to other civil litigation, the discovery phase in probate litigation involves the exchange of information and evidence. This can include depositions, requests for documents, and the issuance of subpoenas. 

  1. The Trial and Appeal Process: If a settlement cannot be reached, the litigation will proceed to trial, where a judge or jury will render a decision. This decision can be appealed, potentially prolonging the process. 

Strategies for Avoiding Probate Litigation 

While not every instance of probate can be sidestepped, there are proactive measures that can significantly reduce the likelihood of disputes, including: 

  • A Will, Trust, or Both: Understanding the differences between wills and trusts can inform your decision on which instrument is more suited to your estate planning needs. 

  • Open Communication and Transparency: One of the most effective strategies for preventing litigation is to ensure all beneficiaries are informed and understand the plan. Family meetings or letters of explanation can often dispel misunderstandings. 

  • Proactive Estate Planning: Ensuring that your estate plan reflects your current wishes and is aligned with the law can prevent familial infighting and mitigate the need for court intervention. 

The Importance of Experienced Counsel 

Probate litigation can be emotionally taxing and financially draining for all parties involved. By gaining a deeper understanding of the process, recognizing common triggers, and adopting preventative strategies, you can safeguard the integrity of your loved one's final wishes and provide peace of mind for your family.  

The key to a successful probate process lies in informed decisions, open lines of communication, and a comprehensive estate plan. Should questions or disputes arise, seeking the counsel of knowledgeable probate attorneys can often provide the clarity and resolution needed to see the process through. 

Probate Litigation Attorney Serving Green Bay, Wisconsin

The process of probate litigation can be challenging, but with the right knowledge and thorough preparation, you can ensure a smoother estate settlement that truly honors your loved one's legacy. Our experienced legal team at Lewis & Van Sickle, LLC can guide you through every step of the way. Understanding the intricacies of probate is your first step toward a successful and harmonious estate settlement.