Legal Grounds for Contesting a Will

By Kristin Shea

You cannot contest a will merely because you believe you should have received more -- you must establish legal grounds. A person with standing -- a beneficiary or somebody who could reasonably expect to be named as a beneficiary -- can file a petition with the court during probate. If the court determines that there's sufficient legal grounds, it can invalidate the entire will or particular provisions of the will.

You cannot contest a will merely because you believe you should have received more -- you must establish legal grounds. A person with standing -- a beneficiary or somebody who could reasonably expect to be named as a beneficiary -- can file a petition with the court during probate. If the court determines that there's sufficient legal grounds, it can invalidate the entire will or particular provisions of the will.

Improperly Executed Will

Each state has its own laws governing the execution of a will, and you can contest a will that fails to meet one of your state’s requirements for properly executing the will. For example, all states require that the testator sign and date the written will, and that witnesses attest to the testator’s act of signing the will. States usually require at least two witnesses.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan

Testamentary Capacity

Every state requires the testator to have testamentary capacity. A will usually contains language that describes the testator as being of sound mind, or uses similar language to describe the testator’s state of mind at the time he signs the will. Testamentary capacity basically means that the testator recognizes family and friends, and appreciates the extent and nature of the property he owns.

Undue Influence

Undue influence refers to the manipulation of the testator by a trusted person with the intention of influencing the provisions of the testator’s last will to benefit the manipulating person. Basically, in establishing undue influence, you will need to show that the will represents the beneficiary’s intentions instead of the testator’s intentions. The American Bar Association lists several predisposing factors for undue influence. Predisposing factors -- such as a spouse’s death, depression, isolation, dependency, mental illness, diminished mental capacity and undetected diseases -- can render a testator more susceptible to manipulation.

Intention of Testator

If a testator intends to disinherit a child, she should expressly state this intention in the will. Otherwise, if the disinheritance is challenged, a court might rule that disinheritance of a child was an unintentional omission.

Vulnerability Enhancers

The American Bar Association notes that a caretaker can increase the dependency of the testator by creating circumstances in which the testator more heavily relies upon the caretaker. A trusted person can poison the testator’s relationships with close family and friends, and thereby isolate the testator. Non-involvement of relatives can contribute to the likelihood that the manipulative beneficiary succeeds in unduly influencing the testator by allowing the manipulator unencumbered access to the testator.

Rights of Spouses

A testator cannot disinherit a spouse in any state. All states have different statutes governing the property rights of spouses, and these laws supersede a spouse’s disinheritance, whether intentional or unintentional, under the testator’s will.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan
How to Invalidate a Last Will & Testament

References

Related articles

What Makes a Will Legal & Binding?

When executed wholly and correctly, a will is a legal document that supersedes any other document, contract or verbal conveyance the testator may have established during her lifetime. This is because a will is a type of one-sided contract, defining the wishes and instructions of the testator as she herself describes them without any outside or undue influence. However, there are multiple facets of a will that establish it as a legal, binding document.

The Requirements for Last Wills Accepted in All 50 States

Laws regarding last wills vary slightly among all states, but in general, a will must meet certain requirements to be valid. A will is not guaranteed to be valid in all states because each state and its probate courts may apply the law differently and have different requirements. A will should be property executed so the testator's intent can be implemented upon his death.

Contesting a Will as a Beneficiary

Will contests take place in probate court: One of the functions of probate court is to hear any disputes pertaining to the execution of a will. A beneficiary who seeks to contest a will must have verifiable grounds upon which to do so. If a probate court deems the evidence sufficient, it may declare the entire will invalid or merely strike certain provisions.

LegalZoom. Legal help is here. Start Here. Wills. Trusts. Attorney help.

Related articles

How Does a Person Contest a Will?

Of the vast numbers of wills probated each year, most don’t encounter significant problems. On occasion, however, ...

Can a Last Will Be Revoked After a Person Dies?

Individual state statutes set the rules for making, revoking, and probating last wills and testaments. An individual ...

Grounds for Contesting a Will in Georgia

In Georgia, the personal representative appointed in the will must file the will for probate in the probate court where ...

Can You Contest a Will When the Testator Was Medicated?

Testamentary capacity is perhaps one of the most-cited reasons for challenging the validity of a will during probate, ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED