The death of a family member can represent a challenging time for heirs and surviving loved ones. Unfortunately, the situation can become emotionally charged when one or more individuals believe the will to be invalid. When this happens, it is wise to understand your legal options to challenge the validity of a will.
While every situation is unique, there are generally four legal reasons to contest a will, including:
- Lack of testamentary capacity: An individual must fully understand the nature and value of the assets in the will and who must inherit this bounty. In some situations, signs of dementia do not make the will invalid. In most cases, the testimony of a reliable witness such as a doctor or attorney can be crucial.
- Undue influence: It is not uncommon for individuals to be pressured into making changes to the various documents in their estate plan. Arguments that the will was changed due to nagging, threats or verbal abuse will not typically establish undue influence.
- Fraudulent documents: If the will is procured by fraud, it generally means the individual was tricked into signing. For example, someone might present a document to be signed and explains that it is something other than the will – a deed or power of attorney, for example. It can be said that the signed will was procured by fraud.
- Lack of legal compliance: While different states generally have specific laws governing estate planning documents, there are typically certain restrictions. Whether the changes follow the proper format, or the revisions were witnessed, the will must be signed in accordance with the applicable state laws.
Challenging or contesting a will goes much deeper than disagreeing with the content of the document. A will contest generally centers on the belief that the will was either created or revised under illegal circumstances. With this understanding, the challenge is not to invalidate one provision, but to contest the entire document.
If you have concerns about the validity of a loved one’s last will and testament, it is wise to seek the guidance of a legal professional.