Why Do People Contest Wills?

By Beverly Bird

According to the Legal Awareness Series, Inc., people contest wills more often than any other document, despite the difficulty of winning a will contest. If the terms of a will are completely at odds with what you think the deceased would have wanted, it might be worthwhile to challenge it. Anyone who contests a will has to have legal standing, meaning that they are a beneficiary listed in the will, or should have been. The time limits and court rules for doing this vary from state to state, but as a general rule, you might not have a lot of time.

According to the Legal Awareness Series, Inc., people contest wills more often than any other document, despite the difficulty of winning a will contest. If the terms of a will are completely at odds with what you think the deceased would have wanted, it might be worthwhile to challenge it. Anyone who contests a will has to have legal standing, meaning that they are a beneficiary listed in the will, or should have been. The time limits and court rules for doing this vary from state to state, but as a general rule, you might not have a lot of time.

Testator's Mental Capacity

Heirs may challenge a will if the deceased was not mentally sharp at the time she made her will. In most states, “sound mind” means that the testator understood the nature of the document, the worth of her assets and her relationship with whoever she was bequeathing them to. This is one of the most difficult reasons to prove in court, however, because the mental capacity required to make a will is much less than most other documents, and the testator need only be lucid during the period of time she is making the will, not necessarily the day before or after, notes TheCommonLawyer.com.

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Duress by a Beneficiary

Sometimes the elderly can find themselves at the mercy of an adult child, especially if that child is also their caretaker. Wills are often contested when beneficiaries or heirs have reason to believe that one of them coerced or threatened the testator into writing his will in a disproportionate way. Duress can happen through threats of actual violence, or more subtle manipulation such as promises to do something for the testator if he changes the will.

Will Invalidity

A will is open to a legal challenge if it does not meet all of the requirements of the state where it was made. Though criteria vary from state to state, a will must generally be signed, dated and witnessed by the required number of people who might or might not also be beneficiaries. Generally, however, the probate court declares the will invalid and bars it from being probated if it does not meet requirements.

Fraudulent Will

An heir who has been written out of a will might destroy it and attempt to enter an older one -- one that still included him -- into probate, causing others heirs to contest the matter. If the will is a fake and the testator’s signature is a forgery, this is also grounds to contest. Both of these actions are criminal offenses in most states.

Superseding Will

The easiest will contest to win is one where a more recent will can be produced, invalidating an older one. Generally, in instances where there is more than one will made by the decedent, the one dated closest to the date of death is the one that is accepted.

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Time Limits When Contesting a Will

References

Related articles

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.

Can an Heir Be Deleted From a Property Inheritance?

When someone leaves a will, he can bequeath his property to anyone he chooses. With the exception of his spouse in some jurisdictions, he can also omit or disinherit anyone he likes. Heirs have far more rights when a loved one dies intestate, or without a will. In this case, a statutory code takes over, determining who inherits his property. Depending on how closely related an heir is to the deceased, it might be impossible to “delete” him.

Protesting a Will in Illinois

Contesting a will can be an important part of ensuring that a decedent's wishes are properly carried out. In Illinois, these challenges can be raised by a person with standing, on the grounds that the will either was not executed properly or is the product of undue influence or fraud. Certain time limitations and notice requirements apply, and the person contesting the will bears the burden of ultimately proving the invalidity of the document.

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