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Michael C. Daniel – Probate Litigation Attorney

Many people think of probate litigation as a Will contest. However, probate litigation is more. Probate litigation consists of legal disputes about any issues related to aging, disability and death. It involves court battles over those still living, such as guardianships and conservatorships, as well as legal fights over powers of attorney, patient advocate designations, Living Wills and of course, Will and Trust contests.

Why do you need a litigator rather than an Estate attorney? Estate attorneys are very skilled in drafting and preparing legal documents, and setting up Wills and Estates.  However, in most cases, Estate attorneys do not participate in the litigation process.  Probate litigation is a very specialized process requiring expert knowledge of evidentiary rules and the Georgia Civil Practice Act. Additionally, probate litigation requires an attorney skilled in the art of advocacy.

At Prior, Daniel and Wiltshire, the firm provides expertise in Estate Planning and Elder law, as well as probate litigation. Michael Daniel has successfully helped clients in probate disputes for more than 30 years.  Michael possesses extensive knowledge and expertise in areas which frequently arise in probate litigation, including business valuation, auditing, and corporate structures.

Mr. Daniel has litigated multiple complex probate matters throughout Northeast Georgia, including disputes involving multi-million dollar estates.  If you and your family face a dispute over a probate matter, you need to have skilled legal representation from an experienced attorney to understand how best to safeguard assets, protect the estate and honor the final wishes of your loved one.

The Types of Probate Litigation

There are several grounds for contesting an individual’s Will including:

  1. Mistake in Execution – If any of the provisions in the Georgia statutes are not met, then the documents are not a valid under Georgia law.
  2. Undue Influence – An undue influence claim challenges whether the person making the Will did so freely and without being coerced by a person who was in a position of trust and control.
  3. Lack of Testamentary Capacity – A lack of capacity claim is asserted based upon the belief that at the time the Will was executed, the person making the Will did not have the requisite mental ability to understand:
    • The amount and nature of his property;
    • The family members and loved ones who would ordinarily receive such property; and
    • How the Will disposes of such property.

In addition to Will contests, probate litigation can involve:

  1. Will Construction – Sometimes Wills are vague, beneficiaries have died or disappeared, or the document does not properly dispose of the entire estate.  In these instances, the assistance of the court is sought to determine how a decedent’s estate should be distributed.
  2. Determination of Heirs – Sometimes a decedent leaves no will and had little contact with his family.  The heirs need to be determined by the court. Sometimes, the decedent has formerly unacknowledged children who wish to prove paternity/maternity and make a claim in the estate.
  3. Breach of Fiduciary Duty – A person appointed by the court to administer a decedent’s estate has duties and responsibilities with which they are charged.  Failure to properly administer an estate, either by overt act or by omission, can be actionable. Sometimes the remedy sought is removal of the fiduciary.  When funds have been wasted or mismanaged or excessive fees have been taken, the remedy can be a surcharge action.
  4. Removal of Fiduciary – A fiduciary may be removed by the court for cause.
  5. Accounting – Beneficiaries have the right to an accounting. If one has not been provided, then a beneficiary may seek the court’s assistance to compel the fiduciary to account for the estate assets. If an accounting has been provided and is objectionable for any reason, then the beneficiary may object to the accounting.

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I have a background in accounting and financial management and have served in various related roles during my career.  I retained the services of Michael as Executor of an estate of an elderly relative.  The case involved complex financial issues as well as issues relating to competency and undue influence.  I hired Michael because he had the reputation of being the best estate litigation attorney in North Georgia.  Michael exhibited great expertise in working through both financial and medical issues in the litigation.  I was extremely satisfied with the manner in which he handled the case and the results.  I highly recommend him.  —  J. Gregory

“Michael Daniel is an experienced trial lawyer who knows the probate law and Courts.  His advice is well considered and realistic.  He places the interests of his clients first.” — Ivan Gustafson, Litigation Attorney, Athens, GA

“Michael has handled two very complex estate disputes for me involving substantial acreage on and around Lake Oconee, Georgia.   I hired Michael because he had the reputation of being the best estate litigation attorney in the area; he did not disappoint.  The thing that struck me most about his representation was the contacts he had in the community.  He had a relationship with the top rated accounting, residential development and valuation experts to in the area.   These relationships were extremely valuable to our case.  I learned that there is no substitute for experience when it comes to estate litigation.  I recommend Michael to anyone involved in estate litigation.”  –  Kaye Dyar, M.D. (Virginia)

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