Will contests are legal disputes that arise when someone challenges the validity of a deceased person’s will during the probate process. These contests can complicate an already emotional and complex period for the family and beneficiaries involved.
Grounds For Contesting A Will
While the specifics may vary by jurisdiction, the following are common reasons for contesting a will:
- Lack of Testamentary Capacity: This ground asserts that the testator (the person making the will) did not possess the mental capacity to understand the consequences of their actions when drafting the will. This could be due to dementia, mental illness, or undue influence.
- Undue Influence: Contestants may claim that the testator was coerced, manipulated, or pressured into making changes to their will that did not reflect their true wishes. This often involves situations where a caregiver, relative, or friend exerted significant influence over the testator.
- Forgery or Fraud: If there is evidence to suggest that the will was forged or that the testator was deceived into signing it under false pretenses, a will contest may be pursued.
- Execution Formalities: As a lawyer, like a probate lawyer from a law firm like W.B. Moore Law knows, every jurisdiction has specific legal requirements for executing a valid will. Contestants may argue that the will was not properly signed, witnessed, or executed in accordance with these requirements.
- Revocation: Contestants may claim that a more recent will exists that supersedes the contested one. It is the responsibility of the party challenging the will to prove the existence of a newer will.
The Process Of Contesting A Will During Probate
Contesting a will during probate involves several steps, and it’s essential to have a valid legal basis for the challenge. Here is an overview of the typical process:
- Notification: In most cases, the probate process begins with the submission of the will to the court. Beneficiaries and heirs are notified of the proceedings. If someone intends to contest the will, they must file a formal objection with the court within a specified timeframe, which varies by jurisdiction.
- Discovery and Investigation: The court will often allow both parties to engage in the discovery process, where evidence is exchanged, and witnesses may be deposed. Contestants gather evidence to support their claims, such as medical records, witness statements, or expert testimony.
- Mediation or Settlement: In some cases, the parties may engage in mediation to resolve the dispute outside of court. If an agreement is reached, the terms are presented to the court for approval.
- Court Proceedings: If mediation fails or if no settlement is reached, the case goes to court. Each side presents their arguments and evidence, and witnesses may testify. The judge will ultimately decide whether the will is valid or not.
- Appeal: If either party is dissatisfied with the court’s decision, they may appeal. Appeals can prolong the legal process significantly.
Get Help When A Will Is Contested
Contesting a will during probate is a complex legal process that should not be undertaken lightly. It requires a valid legal basis, thorough evidence gathering, and legal representation. It is advisable for individuals facing a potential will contest to seek legal counsel to guide them through the process effectively. Reach out to a reliable lawyer now for help.