Legal Grounds for Contesting a Will

After the passing of a loved one, there may be people that are surprised, disheartened, or outright angry about the contents of his or her will. Please know that a will cannot be challenged or contested solely on the grounds that a person does not like or agree with its terms. Emotions can run high after the death of a loved one and the contents of a will can work to fuel the already burning fire. This does not mean a will can be contested. There are certain legal grounds, however, that may be asserted in an attempt to have a will invalidated.

Legal Grounds for Contesting a Will

Perhaps one of the most common reasons that a will is contested is for the simple reason that it was not executed in accordance with applicable state laws. In other words, the requisite formalities of creating and establishing the will were not observed and so it is not legally valid. Each state has specific laws that dictate how a legally binding will must be executed. Failure to comply with these laws will result in the creation of an invalid will. This is the central reason why it is so important to be aware of and comply with these laws. While it can be far too easy to depend on a legal service provider to see to the proper execution of a will, this does not always yield the best results. You should always check to see that a will has been signed and executed in accordance with the applicable state laws.
Another legal ground for contesting a will is if the testator, the person who created the will, lacked testamentary capacity. This is a difficult threshold to overcome and it can be even more difficult to prove. Testamentary capacity means that the testator understood the nature of his or her “bounty” and the “natural objects of that bounty.” In other words, the testator must understand the nature of her property and the consequences of how he or she is distributing that property to beneficiaries in the will. The testator must understand the legal impact of signing the will. Proving a lack of testamentary capacity is difficult, especially considering the testator is no longer around to be evaluated. Without something concrete, such as a doctor’s evaluation or adjudication of incapacity issued in the narrow time frame surrounding the signing of the will, testamentary capacity will be difficult to substantiate.
Undue influence is another legal ground for contesting a will. The question in an undue influence challenge is whether a person exerted such extreme pressure on the testator that the testator essentially lost his or her free will and the will of the influencer was put in place instead. This is a high threshold to meet. Evidence of threats and verbal abuse will usually not be enough to establish undue influence. There must be more.
Fraud is also a legal ground for contesting a will. Fraud occurs when the testator is tricked into signing the will. He or she may have thought she was signing something else. Fraud, like testamentary capacity and undue influence, is also difficult to prove. The testator is no longer around to testify as to what he or she thought he or she was signing. Witnesses are usually used to testify as to what happened at the signing of the will instead.

Estate Planning Attorneys

If a will contest is successful, the will is tossed out. Probate will then proceed as if the testator died intestate, without a will, or the court may honor a previously executed will instead. Do you have questions about contesting a will? Do you want to create a will that can stand up to these types of challenges after you pass away? OC Wills & Trusts is here for you. Contact us today.

Brian Chew, the managing partner of OC Wills & Trust Attorneys, has extensive experience in the areas of estate planning, asset protection planning, business succession planning, long-term care planning, and veterans’ benefits. By devoting his practice to estate planning matters, he has founded a firm that strives to provide exceptional service to their clients by working closely with individuals and their families to create comprehensive and customized estate plans. For the past twenty five years, Brian has served thousands of clients in the matters of estate planning, wills and trusts. If you have any questions about this article, you can reach Brian Chew here.