Reasons to Contest a Will: Do I Have a Valid Reason?
When you want to contest a will, it’s no easy task. Oftentimes, the courts see the will as the voice of the deceased person who wrote it. Since they don’t have the ability to speak for themselves, the document is the best way to understand their wishes.
However, there are valid reasons to fight a will. Typically, spouses and close relatives have the best position to challenge a will. Still, anyone with an interest in the document has the option to contest it.
When you successfully contest a will, it potentially voids a part of the document or even the entire document. In doing so, it’s possible to reinstate a previous version. On the other hand, failure tends to mean nothing changes.
Contesting a will is an expensive and draining process. That means it’s not something to take lightly. When you want to know your chances, it’s best to speak with a civil litigation lawyer.
Valid Reasons to Contest a Will
What are some of the valid reasons to challenge a will? Let’s explore a few of the common positions people take.
The Deceased Lacked Testamentary or Mental Capacity
Oftentimes, only those over the age of 18 have the option to compose a legal will. When adults file a will, they have a presumption of testamentary capacity. This means the default position of the court is that the author was of sound mind and legal age.
When you want to contest a will and challenge that status, you have to prove some condition impacted their mental capacity. Examples include severe substance abuse, senility, or dementia. However, it extends to anything that shows the author did not have full control of their mental faculties when they wrote the will.
A Different Will Supercedes the Current Version
In some cases, the will the court uses is not the most recent version. Typically, this means that the executor of the will did not discover this version. When you find and verify a new will, you have the option to present it to the court.
If successful, the court nullifies the previous document. Ideally, the new version states that it replaces older versions. As such, all older versions should be destroyed.
When you suspect a newer version of a will exists, be sure to examine the author’s files and other belongings. Moreover, see whether they have a lawyer you don’t know. They may be unaware of their passing and have a newer version of the document on file.
The details and requirements vary by state. However, many states require a will to explicitly state who the author is. Moreover, it appoints a specific person to act as the executor and clearly states leaving a significant asset to a specific heir.
Oftentimes, courts have the option to decide who acts as executor regardless of what the document says. However, when a will does not meet the requirements of the state, you have an option to challenge it.
Proof of Fraud or Undue Influence
When you have evidence of undue influence or fraudulent information that influenced the will, you have the right to challenge it. If you want to contest a will under these terms, though, it requires clear evidence.
“Undue influence” means the author did not have the full will or power to determine how the document distributed their assets. Moreover, outside manipulation led them to make specific decisions.
At times, it’s difficult to prove that a bad actor manipulated the author. However, examples of t his manipulation include blackmail, emotional pressure, fraudulent information, or similar behavior.
Lack of Witnesses
A physical copy of a will requires the signature and date written by the author in front of at least two legal witnesses. Typically, these witnesses receive nothing from the document. This means you have an option to contest a will when a witness is also an heir.
In such a case, it may void their benefit and leave the rest of the document intact.
Additionally, some states allow unwitnessed, handwritten wills. Often, people refer to this as a “holographic will.” These need to meet specific requirements, though. For instance, the writing, signature, and date all have to match the handwriting of the testator.
Generally speaking, it is easier to contest a will written in this manner. When there are no witnesses, it leaves much in question.
What to Include in a Will
There is no legal mandate to notarize a will. However, it helps prevent challenges. If you want to ensure no one can contest a will, include a notarized document that clarifies the presence of specific witnesses.
Generally, this reduces the questions around the validity of the document. Moreover, you have the option to include a statement that regards the testator as free of outside influence and is of sound mind.
These are NOT legal requirements. However, they reinforce the strength of the document.
When a new version replaces an old will, it is essential for the author to clearly state this in the new version. Moreover, it’s a good idea to destroy outdated versions.
This helps to reduce confusion among heirs. It also helps to void anyone’s option to contest a will the author leaves behind.
Things to Avoid in a Will
As you write a will, it’s important to avoid conditions on whether an heir receives a benefit. For instance, there’s the classic horror story example of someone leaving an heir a house on the condition that they survive one night inside.
In most cases, the conditions are much less supernatural. However, these conditions reduce the clarity of a document. Whenever someone wants to contest a will, this lack of clarity works to their benefit.
Additionally, when you jointly own property or other assets with another person, it’s important not to give these away. Oftentimes, these default back to the survivor in the joint ownership.
Finally, leave out any assets that fall outside of probates. Examples include retirement accounts or life insurance policies. Typically, these assets have clear paths for distribution. That means you don’t have to worry about them.
Is It Worth It to Contest a Will?
When someone authors a will, it tends to provide closure to their survivors. Moreover, it gives the testator peace of mind because it lays out all their final wishes.
Still, when a problem arises with a will, it doesn’t hurt to take a second look. Additionally, when a bad actor manipulates the author, it is important to contest a will that doesn’t meet their true final wishes.
When you want to challenge a will, reach out to a local civil litigation attorney. At your free consultation, they help you understand whether your reasoning behind a challenge is valid.