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How to Avoid a Contested Probate

The information in this column is not intended as legal advice but to provide a general understanding of the law. Any readers with a legal problem, including those whose questions are addressed here, should consult an attorney for advice on their particular circumstances.

I, like many elder law attorneys, spend a large part of my practice engaged in preventive law. Preventive law is a law practice that seeks to anticipate and prevent legal problems and litigation. It is an approach found in several other areas of law besides elder law and estate planning. Many of us who practice elder law already use counseling techniques and many of the documents we prepare with the goal of avoiding litigation (such as an expensive trip to probate court or other legal or financial harm that might have been avoided with appropriate planning).

The conduct of an attorney would of course vary with the situation and depend on the unique circumstances of the case or conflict. With that said, there are some behaviors that would distinguish the peacemaking mind set, and which would be designed to obtain win-win outcomes. These include a willingness to (1) agree to stipulations as to facts and the admission of evidence along with other requests to hasten the proceeding; (2) accommodate requests from opposing party or counsel for schedule changes due to illness, family, or work responsibilities; and (3) avoid the “gotcha” strategy when a mistake is made by an opposing party or counsel; and (4) abstain from negative personal or otherwise disparaging comments. This list is not meant to be exclusive or exhaustive – the bottom line for all these “indicia” of the avoiding conflict mind set is that the attorney acting as a peacemaker is an erstwhile advocate for family or intergenerational healing and that this restorative approach can be consistent with the interests of the client.

When elder law attorneys act as probate peacemakers or as elder/probate mediators, they bring their substantive knowledge of and familiarity with these preventive steps and techniques. This combination of substantive experience and the preventive approach to a problem or set of problems combine in a way that can help predict how a client and members of a family or another interested group might behave in the future. That can mean that an attorney serving as a peacemaker or as counsel to a disputing party can help ensure that the client has the benefit of strategic advice before future problems or troubles appear on the horizon. To the extent that a dispute is not definitively resolved by some process, or if related issues crop up, a peacemaker can be enlisted to draft an agreement that can guide the parties toward productive management of anticipated future disputes.

If it is your desire that your final wishes be carried out without conflict or litigation, then you should seek the assistance of an attorney experienced in Probate, Estate Planning and Elder Law matters. He or she can guide you with regard to decisions and language that will make the transfer of your assets a peaceful experience instead of a stressful one.

If you have a question regarding Elder Law, Estate Planning, Living Trusts or Probate in the Huntsville area, please contact us at 936-295-6394 or visit our website. Call today and we will connect you with an experienced Elder Law and Probate Attorney. We can schedule you a face to face appointment to discuss your circumstances. If you have questions or are considering any aspect of your estate plan, probate, your health care directives, etc., we can help! Call us now at 936-295-6394 . We look forward to hearing from you and assisting you with any and all elder law and estate planning needs.

Sam A. Moak is an attorney with the Huntsville law firm of Moak & Moak, P.C. He is licensed to practice in all fields of law by the Supreme Court of Texas, is a Member of the State Bar College, and is a member of the Real Estate, Probate and Trust Law Section of the State Bar of Texas.