What Constitutes Fraud When Contesting a Will?

By A.L. Kennedy

One common ground for contesting a will is that the will was the result of fraud. If you can prove fraud, some or all of the will may be invalidated, and the property will pass according to the state's rules for intestacy; that is, for people who die without leaving a will or other means to dispose of their property.

Definition

The word "fraud" has a specific meaning in law. To be liable for fraud in the case of a will, a beneficiary must have made at least one specific false statement to the testator, who changed his will to benefit the beneficiary based on the false statement. A successful fraud claim must include all these elements. Merely lying to the testator is not fraud if the testator did not give the liar a greater share of the estate or some other benefit based on the lie. Nor has fraud occurred if the testator heard and believed the lie but changed his will for some reason not related to the llie, according to the law offices of Kramer & Connolly.

Examples

In will contests, some examples of fraud are challenged more frequently than others. For instance, a testator who has a number of mental lapses or passively allows the beneficiary to make her decisions and conduct her affairs is more likely to be suspected of allowing fraud to influence her will than one who is assertive and well-oriented.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan

Who May Sue

Anyone may bring a claim of fraud in a will contest if he has standing. In a will contest, standing means you are an "interested person," or someone who has something to gain or lose from the will being read as it is. Contests for fraud are frequently brought by the adult children of a deceased parent who believe one of their siblings lied to the parent in order to receive more of the estate. You do not have to be a child of the testator to allege fraud, however, as long as you are an interested person.

Results

If the probate court finds that part or all of the will was created fraudulently, the court will treat the portion that resulted from fraud as if it does not exist. If the court finds the entire will is the result of fraud, the court will treat the entire will as if it does not exist, according to FindLaw. The probate court will then apply the state's rules for intestate succession, or for those who die without a will, when it distributes the testator's property. These rules tend to favor spouses and children, according to FindLaw. If there is no one living who can receive the property according to the state's intestacy laws, the property goes to the state.

Considerations

A beneficiary who contests the will for any reason may run the risk of losing her share of the estate entirely if she loses the will contest. This risk occurs when the will contains a "no contest" clause, which is designed to deter beneficiaries from challenging the will. Even if you think a sibling or another person got a greater share of the estate via fraud, you may want to consult an attorney if the will contains a no contest clause, as the cost to you of challenging the will may be greater than the benefit you will receive even if you win, according to Financial Web.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan
What Are the Chances of Contesting a Will & Winning?
 

References

Resources

Related articles

Advice on Contesting Wills

A will contest or a will challenge is a court case brought to dispute the validity of a will, according to FindLaw. In most cases, a will contest is filed with the probate court, and the executor of the estate is responsible for defending the will's validity. It may be wise to hire an attorney for a will contest. He will know your state's laws regarding will challenges, and may increase your chances of success.

Information on Contested Wills

A contested will is the subject of a lawsuit that argues that part or all of the contested will is invalid. Any probate proceedings stop while the will contest is heard in probate court. If the will contest is successful, the probate court then ignores the part of the will that was contested or the entire will, depending on the contest case, and distributes the estate according to state law as if the will never existed.

Who Can Contest a Will?

Although estate laws vary somewhat from state to state, they all have some criteria in their legislation that must be met before anyone can contest a will. Generally, these statutes include a provision that you must “have standing” or be an “interested person” in order to challenge a will. The will must have financially harmed you in some way, or you must have some financial interest in the deceased’s estate.

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

Related articles

What Does it Mean to Contest a Will?

A will contest or will challenge occurs when someone files a lawsuit in court stating that he believes the will is ...

How to Contest a Fraudulent Last Will

The probate process is designed to ensure that only valid, accurate wills are enforced by court orders and as such, ...

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 ...

Can Wills Be Contested?

Wills can be contested, but the process is subject to complex laws that vary from state to state. If you believe you ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED