Money can bring out the worst in people. As a potential beneficiary to a will, there may come a time where find yourself in disagreement or even bewilderment at the manner in which the property is being distributed. You may suspect foul play and even consider contesting the will. However, to be successful in a will contest, it’s essential that you have a valid legal basis for challenging the will, and evidence to backup any allegations.
Among the most frequently cited arguments for will contests are:
- Lack of mental capacity: If the individual who drafted the will was not in a sound state of mind during its creation, the validity of the will can be challenged. A ‘sound mind’ in this context means the testator’s understanding of their assets, their natural heirs, and the implications of their bequests.
- Fraud, undue influence, or forgery: In some cases, individuals may be misled into signing a will, pressured under distressing conditions, or even have their signature counterfeited.
- Existence of multiple wills: When multiple wills exist, the most recent is usually accepted by courts as the valid document. However, those created just prior to the testator’s death may be disputed due to potential undue influence, lack of mental capacity, or other reasons.
- Non-compliance with state requirements: Every state has particular requirements regarding what a will should contain, how it should be signed, and the minimum number of required witnesses. A failure to adhere to these conditions may render the will invalid.
Another issue to consider is whether you have legal “standing” to contest a will. To have standing, you must satisfy one of the following conditions:
- You are named as a beneficiary in an earlier will
- You are designated as a beneficiary in the current will
- You are a beneficiary of a later will made after the one being disputed
- In the absence of a will, you would be an heir under the state’s intestacy laws
If you’re in this situation, you should contact a probate attorney. They will work with you to prepare and file a petition in the state probate court overseeing the estate. This notifies the probate court and the estate your intention to contest the will. If no resolution is reached, the case proceeds to court, and you will present your argument as to why the will should be amended. The final decision rests with the court.