The loss of a parent or other close relative is always painful. Unfortunately, for many people, inheritance disputes can compound the feelings of stress and anxiety during a time of grief. When it comes time to review the contents of a will, some individuals are surprised to find that the will has been recently altered, or a codicil has been executed that creates confusion over the meaning of the original estate plan.
It can be difficult to know where to turn when the words in a will do not meet with your expectations. Changes in our society, such as the tremendous increase in blended families, have led to an increase in family disputes in recent decades. As life expectancies are growing longer, there is a growing chance that issues such as the capacity to execute a will or the existence of undue adversely influence can impact a person’s inheritance rights.
While sibling or step-sibling rivalries may appear to be the focus of many probate disputes, it is vital for an expected beneficiary, heir-at-law or trustee who feels that something is amiss with estate documents to work with a probate attorney who knows who to analyze the documents and the circumstances that surrounded the creation of a will or trust.
Common Reasons To Challenge A Will
- Capacity of the testator: To be able to execute a valid will, the law requires that the person has the mental capacity to understand the consequences of creating or altering a will. Adults are generally presumed to have the capacity to create a last will and testament. Testamentary capacity challenges typically require a challenger to show evidence of dementia, senility, Alzheimer’s or some other mental impairment to prove that the testator was not of sound mind to execute the will.
- Undue influence: Not all wills divide property equally among heirs and beneficiaries. However, as a person ages, they may become more susceptible to manipulation. A family member or other person who is close to an elderly person may try to use pressure to have the testator alter a will. Proving undue influence typically requires more than just a showing of pressure, but often is based upon evidence that a beneficiary used coercion to obtain a larger share of the estate.
- Forgery or fraud: Evidence that the testator was tricked into signing documents or never signed them at all may be valid challenges in a will contest.
A potentially invalid will raises difficult concerns for a person mourning the loss of a loved one. On the surface, a will contest may seem all about the money. In reality, an invalid will does not truly reflect the desires of a loved one. If you believe that something is wrong with a will, you may be able to contest the will in court.