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Marriages Often the Subject of Probate Litigation


When a person dies without an estate plan, their estate goes into probate. Even if there is a will, the court will supervise the process of dividing up the deceased’s estate.

Most matters handled by probate courts are uncontested. However, disputes can happen for a variety of reasons. There can be issues about the validity of a will, the interpretation of a trust, or the conduct of a guardian. Sibling rivalry, second marriages, and dysfunctional families are often  factors in probate litigation. Even when there is an estate plan in place, those that omit a spouse or child, treat children differently, or make gifts to mistresses are also suspicious and lead to probate disputes.

One issue that is becoming more common is the validity of marriages. Why would there be issues about marriage? One alarming pattern that seems to be increasing is marriage scams. What happens is that a person will attempt to orchestrate a marriage to their “partner,” who is suffering from some cognitive impairment. The person may even be living in a nursing facility.

Instead of using the person’s mental incapacity or undue influence to obtain a will, the person uses this mental incapacity to get married. By doing so, they expect to inherit their spouse’s estate under the law of intestacy, which means dying without a will.

If the person is in a nursing facility, there may be disputes over whether the wedding officiant should be admitted to the facility for a wedding. When a marriage is performed secretly without the knowledge of a spouse’s family, there may be disputes about the validity of the marriage.

There does not have to be mental incapacity involved, though. In one case, the issue was an invalid marriage license. A couple married one day after the marriage license expired. After the husband died, the wife claimed that she was the surviving spouse for purposes of intestacy. The personal representative of the man’s estate petitioned the probate court to determine his heirs.

There was conflicting evidence as to whether the couple knew the marriage was void. There was speculation that the two put on a sham ceremony so that the woman could save face with her friends. There was evidence that the parties did not act like a married couple. For example, the wife filed her tax returns as a single person. Ultimately, the probate court ruled that due to a lack of a marriage license, the marriage was deemed invalid.

Seek Legal Help

Scams such as marriages to those who are incapacitated can lead to concerns among family members. This can result in litigation once the person dies.

If you are dealing with an estate issue, count on Fort Lauderdale probate litigation lawyer Edward J. Jennings, P.A. to guide you through the process. We can help you unravel complicated probate litigation matters. Fill out the online form or call 954-764-4330 to schedule a consultation.



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