When a loved one passes away, his or her estate goes to probate to be administered according to the estate plan or state law. If that person had a final will and testament or other estate planning documents, the executor of the estate will distribute assets as ordered in the will. But what if someone disagrees with the will and decides to contest the estate plan? Below are some of the most common situations in which someone may try to contest the will in favor of a previous version or in favor of state law intestacy rules.
Claims of Mental Incapacity
One of the most common situations for a will contest is the claim that the person who died lacked the mental capacity, or testamentary capacity, to create a will at the time it was signed. Lacking mental capacity means that the deceased did not know he was signing a will, lacked the ability to understand the scope of assets he was signing away, or did not understand that the document he was signing would give away his assets upon his death.
In order to have a valid will, it must be shown that at the time of the creation of the will, the deceased knew the value and extent of his or her property, the people who would be the natural heirs and beneficiaries, the nature of the disposition he was making, and how these elements relate to create an estate plan.
Claims of Undue Influence
Another common claim is that the deceased was forced into creating a will due to undue influence of another person and that the will does not accurately reflect the wishes of the deceased. In order to prove undue influence, it must be shown that a person with a special relationship to the deceased affected the decision making to the point that the will actually reflects the desires of the influencer and not that of your loved one. Typically, the person accused of undue influence is a family member, close friend, or caretaker of the deceased.
Claims of Fraud or Procedural Issues
One final situation occurs when a family member claims that fraud or procedural issues make the current version of the will invalid. Fraud occurs when someone tricked or otherwise coerced the deceased into signing a will. A common example of this is when the deceased is handed a stack of documents to sign, with the will hidden inside.
Procedural issues refers to errors in the creation of the will that violate the law and make the current version invalid. Examples of this can include failing to sign the will, failing to have the proper number of witnesses at the signing, and other procedural issues.
Contact an Experienced Attorney
If you are struggling with the probate process or have questions about this article, don’t hesitate to contact us. We are happy to answer your questions.