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.

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.

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.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan

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
Contesting a Will as a Beneficiary

References

Related articles

Legal Recourse if Left out of a Will as a Daughter

The purpose of a last will and testament is to provide a will maker -- called a "testator" -- a mechanism by which he can dispose of his property in a manner he sees fit. In most instances, a testator is under no obligation to include children in his will. Thus, the legal recourse for a child left out of a will may be to contest the will.

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, a beneficiary -- or sometimes a person surprised not to be named as a beneficiary -- may question a will's validity. The court has authority to hear legal claims challenging a will’s validity. The court also has authority to consider state statutes that supersede the will’s provisions.

How to Dispute a Power of Attorney

When a person creates a power of attorney, she allows a trusted person named in the document to act on her behalf and, depending on the terms of the document, to carry out her wishes. Like all legal documents, a power of attorney can be disputed. There are a number of grounds under which a power of attorney can be challenged. Some grounds are easier to establish than others.

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

Related articles

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, ...

Laws Pertaining to Contesting a Will in Arizona

Probate is the legal proceeding used to validate a will and give legal authority to the executor, the person overseeing ...

Facts About Wills

Your last will and testament is the only way that you will be able to control the distribution of your assets after you ...

What Constitutes Fraud When Contesting a Will?

One common ground for contesting a will is that the will was the result of fraud. If you can prove fraud, some or all ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED