You cannot dispute or challenge a will merely because you disagree with its provisions. In most jurisdictions, there are four legal grounds for a will dispute, and proving any of them may be challenging.
In many instances, this equates to a significant financial outlay, ranging from attorney and expert fees to court costs. The court of law can invalidate a final will and testament. If one of these four grounds for a dispute exists. At this point, you’ll want to learn how to contest a will.
It’s not a case of negating one provision at a time. The whole will is essentially tossed out, and the estate proceeds as if the deceased had died without leaving a will. Keep on reading for our top seven things you need to know before taking the will to court.
1. How to Contest a Will 101: Set Up a Budget
Before you sign a retainer agreement with a lawyer, give it some serious consideration.
You have no standing to challenge the will if you are not related to the testator and they have never mentioned you in a prior will. If the testator (dead) previously discussed inheritance with you, jot down as much as you can recall.
Estimate the monetary value based on this. It can be possessions or a lump sum of money. If it was never explicitly stated but inferred, you’ll need to assess what you might have reasonably gotten based on your understanding of the testator’s estate.
Walk away if this sum isn’t enough to pay the expense of an estate lawyer consultation.
Even if the retainer is twice as much for the retainer, stepping back may be the wiser option, since some of the most expensive estate battles end up costing more in legal costs than the inheritance. So, consider twice before hiring a lawyer.
Make sure that challenging a will is a war worth waging—being left out of a will is bad enough, but spending time, money, and emotions fighting a lost struggle is much worse.
2. Obtain a Copy of the Last Will and Testament
The testator is the one who decides is who is not included or not included in a will. If you think the will has shifted, maybe due to stress or a loss of mental ability, you might try to figure out how and why. Request a copy of the current will, as well as any prior versions and a list of assets, from the executor.
In most cases, a competent executor will compare copies of the will and make note of any major differences. As a result, a notification from the executor may be your first indication that you were left out of the will.
You will be able to get a copy of the will from the probate court if you are not informed before the will enters probate. You will also be informed of the time limit for contesting the will. Because each state has its own set of procedures and deadlines, you may wish to hire a lawyer to assist you to get a copy and submit the dispute as soon as possible.
3. Once You’re All In – Hire a Lawyer
Remember when you weighed the pros and cons of going to court? It’s now time to pay up.
If you were able to get a copy of the will even without the assistance of a lawyer, you need immediately seek legal counsel. Show the lawyer the will and explain why you wish to challenge it in court.
Essentially, the testator has the authority to distribute the inheritance according to their whims. You must have a good cause to challenge the will.
These are easy to understand. You must show that the testator lacked the mental ability to comprehend what was going on at the time the present will was written, that he or she was coerced into altering it, or that the will did not comply with state laws and is therefore invalid.
Your lawyer will be able to tell you whether or not this is a winnable challenge. Even if you don’t have grounds, you may be able to establish a claim on the estate.
For instance, you might claim expenses if you performed unpaid labor for the testator. You’d have to weigh the claim’s worth against the expenses of filing it again.
This is the time to explore the contesting a will lawyers that have a flawless track record.
4. See if There Has Been a Lack of Testamentary Capacity
There are a couple of causes that can trigger the challenge of a will.
This indicates that the testator (the person who wrote the will) was not mentally capable of doing so (this is sometimes called “being of sound mind”).
In general, a person must be able to comprehend what they own and its worth, who their natural heirs are, and what and to whom they are donating.
You may contest the will if you believe the testator did not comprehend those three points. You’ll need more than just a claim that Grandma was unfit to make a will; you’ll also need evidence that she was incompetent to make a will.
5. Finding Forgery, Fraud, or Undue Influence
The will may be challenged if the testator made the will under duress (forced to do so), was duped into signing a will, or had their signature forged.
Successful will challenges are usually when the dead makes a sudden and unexpected change in their estate plan, and there is proof of improper influence.
6. The Existence of Another Will
There is a cause to challenge a will that is newer than the one that is being probated.
There may be some uncertainty as to which will is the most recent, which may be grounds for a challenge.
7. Not Meeting State Requirements
Each state has its own set of requirements for what a will must include. If the will fails to satisfy these criteria, it may be declared void.
Some states, for example, do not allow unattested handwritten wills, whereas others do. A will must be witnessed by two people in certain states, while three people are required in others.
Estate Lawyers and Estate Planning: Simplified
At a time of loss and facing wrongdoings when it comes to inheritances, things can be overwhelming, to say the least.
Hopefully, our guide has shed some light on how to contest a will in highlighting the seven segments you need to keep in mind before starting the process.
And, if you liked reading our article, then you’ll love checking out our legal section. It’s filled with all the tips and tricks you could possibly need.