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.

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.

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.

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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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How to Contest a Will if a Person Is Incompetent

References

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Reasons to Contest a Will

It is not enough to be unhappy with the way the property of an estate is distributed in a will to contest its validity, but it's an important start. You must have a connection to the maker of a will or the property distributed therein in order to have the standing to contest the will in a probate court. But to successfully contest the will's validity, you will have to show at least one of several recognized grounds for overturning a will.

Are Video Wills Legal?

The statutes of very few states contain specific legislation addressing whether video wills are legal. In legal terms, most legislation is “silent” on the issue, neither allowing them nor disallowing them directly. The law therefore becomes implied. It has to be derived from what other laws leave unsaid. Video wills are gaining in popularity, however.

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 have cause to contest a will, immediately contact an attorney to learn the rules for doing so where you live. The burden is on the person contesting the will to prove that it should be set aside, so will contests are not typically easy to win.

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