A last will and testament outlines how a person’s assets will be distributed after their death. While most people accept the terms of a will, there are certain situations where contesting or challenging a will may be reasonable or necessary.
Grounds for Contesting
There are several potential grounds for contesting a will:
Lack of Testamentary Capacity
This claims the deceased lacked the necessary mental capacity when creating or updating their will. Things like dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or even medications could have impacted their judgment and decision-making. To have testamentary capacity, the willmaker must understand the act of making a will, have a general grasp of their assets and relations to beneficiaries, and be able to make logical decisions about distributing property. Significant cognitive decline, delusions, or delirium could demonstrate the deceased lacked the adequate testamentary capacity for a legally enforceable will later contest on such grounds.
This alleges someone pressured or manipulated the deceased to include certain provisions against their wishes. If a new caregiver, friend, or relative seems to have gained an improper level of control or authority, undue influence may be a factor. Tactics like isolation, dependency, or aggression could be used to coerce or confuse the willmaker to comply against their true desires. Documenting when a new influencer entered the picture and any resulting shifts in care, finances, or living situation helps support an undue influence claim if changes correlated with will updates. Essentially, this contests that the will provisions reflect the influencer’s wishes rather than the deceased’s intentions.
Wills must follow certain legal processes to be valid, like having witnesses present to sign off. Contesting on execution grounds disputes technical elements like incorrect witnessing procedures.
Duress and Fraud
Duress claims the willmaker was forced into including certain provisions against their desires. Fraud suggests the drafter knowingly included false statements to misrepresent facts to the deceased or witnesses. This can make a will invalid.
A newer will or codicil entirely revokes an older one, so the newest document stands. But if you contest based on believing there is a newer will than the one filed, this may invalidate the existing document.
In certain cases, children have grounds to contest a will that leaves them little or nothing. While this varies by state and circumstance, disinheriting legal heirs sometimes warrants investigation.
Steps for Contesting The process for contesting includes these steps:
- Review the will and identify potential grounds for dispute.
- Research case law to understand standards for establishing contestation claims.
- Contact and retain a probate litigation attorney to discuss merits.
- Have the attorney file a petition with the court within the deadline.
- Engage in the discovery process to obtain evidence supporting claims.
- Attempt negotiation of settlement before the court date.
- Present the case in probate court trial if no settlement is reached.
If evidence sufficiently proves claims, the court may rule all or part of the will invalid and order alternate distribution of assets.
Contesting a will is complex and fact-specific, but there are circumstances where legal challenges are appropriate. If you believe grounds like incapacity, undue influence, or disinheritance unfairly impacted the will’s contents, consulting an attorney can help assess any rights to dispute. With the right evidence and legal support, the probate court may indeed impose an alternative, more equitable division of the deceased’s estate.