Very few Will contests result in complete emotional and legal success for any client. Even when a client prevails on their legal claims, the road to obtain that result is generally lined with emotional turbulence that no court can repair. Know and understand at the inception of the case that contests like yours involve the separation of emotional and legal goals. Advise your attorney of your expectations on both fronts, as his or her picture of success might be different from your own.
Review the Relevant Time Periods
Will contests are typically concerned with three points in a decedent's life. What happened before the Will was signed, at the moment the Will was signed, and after the document was executed? Changes in attitudes, inconsistencies, different behaviors and perhaps even different mental conditions all weigh heavily on the success of any claim. The more your attorney knows about these moments, the better he or she is prepared to extract the relevant facts. Be prepared to provide your attorney with trustworthy individuals familiar with each point in time if possible.
Understand the Elements of Your Claim
You may find yourself attacking or defending the validity of a Will. Regardless of your position, your lawyer knows what factual elements must be present to give you any chance of a successful argument. For example, establishing that the decedent lacked the capacity to execute a Will requires the existence of specific facts. Your attorney knows them, and you should as well.
Your attorney is navigating you through a proceeding given only the facts as they learn them. The client, on the other hand, very often has the benefit of being able to apply their own lens to the issue, allowing them to look beyond bare facts and supplement them with family history, relationships with the decedent and other considerations. Leave the legal strategy to your attorney, but prepare yourself to give your lawyer the insight that only you might possess.
Keep Discovery to Truly Unknown Matters
Clients are often unable to provide their lawyer with a complete depiction of the entire estate at issue. Information regarding assets is often unknown or incomplete. Formal discovery can certainly be inexpensive, but it generally represents a significant portion of the overall fees incurred by a litigation client. Doing some digging and providing what you know to your attorney allows them to devote more time to the truly unknown while remaining efficient.
Public records can be helpful at early stages, and clients might have as much access to them as attorneys. For example, tax appraisal district records provide quick information related to real property. The Texas Comptroller's website might reveal unclaimed property that should be considered. Even the decedent's mail can often reveal an asset or source of income. If the decedent was acquainted with other professionals, like a CPA, make sure your attorney knows how to contact them. Help your lawyer help you.
Prepare for Compromise
Some cases are entirely one-sided. Many times, however, the truths of a case leave the parties somewhere in the middle of right and wrong. Add the expense of challenging or defending a Will and clients from both sides have every reason to resolve the issue by compromise rather than leave it to a judge or jury.
Your case may be appropriate for mediation, or the Court might even require the parties to give it a shot. As you move forward, know what items are on the table as well as those you are unwilling to budge on. Advise your attorney early and often of your realistic interest in reaching an agreement that both sides might find satisfactory.
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