How to Contest a Will: Legal Grounds

Contesting a will means someone wants the will of a loved one or relative thrown out on specific grounds. Challenging a will usually happens when a descendant did not get their fair share, or what they expected to get.

Contesting a Will: What Grounds and Reasons

Despite what an heir might think, they are not automatically entitled to anything that is not stipulated in their deceased loved one’s will. There are only four valid grounds upon which someone can contest a will successfully.

Testamentary Capacity

What this means is that the deceased, at the time of creating and signing their will did not understand the ramifications completely. Each testator must understand three concepts fully when creating a will:

  • The full value of and extent of their property and assets.
  • The expectations of his beneficiaries and whom he or she is providing for in the will.
  • The distribution of who is getting what and the ramifications of his or her decisions within the will once they sign it.

Most often this argument is used when a deceased person was living with dementia or under the influence of substances that altered their sanity before their death. Here a loved one believes they were incapacitated enough not to understand what they were doing when they signed the will. It is tough to prove this without a doctor’s note and witnesses.

Will Was Not Signed According to State Law

Every state in the U.S. has very strict laws about how wills must be signed, how many witnesses must be present and other stipulations. If any of these measures are not met during the signing, the will can be invalidated. The validity of a signature is the most common reason a will is contested.

Undue Influence was Placed on the Testator

Elderly citizens are more vulnerable to manipulation and coercion, sometimes with dire consequences. In the case of contesting a will under these grounds, one must prove that the perpetrator inflicted extreme pressure on the individual causing them to sign a will that they would never have if not under such duress. To prove this, the advocate must show that someone spoke with the testator’s attorney, paid for services and even kept a copy of the will, maintaining complete control over the document and the process.

Will the was Created by Fraud or Forgery

If the will is in question as to its authenticity, it can be contested because it was forged or created fraudulently. If a close friend or family member tricks an older person into signing a will where they benefit, this is a case of fraud. They may even pass it off as another type of document, and the victim has no idea what they signed.

This type of contest is hard to prove because the deceased is no longer around to question. The state must rely on witnesses present at the time of signing for evidence of any wrongdoing.

Requirements

Although each state has specific rules about how a will must be formatted, there are a few general requirements a valid will must contain:

  • First, it must state in plain language that the will belongs to the testator (the person who created it).
  • It must include at least one “substantive clause” leaving an asset or property to a specific heir.
  • It must also explicitly appoint an executor to carry out the terms of the will. In some court cases, the court will appoint one for the deceased.

A hard copy of the will must exist and be signed in front of witnesses. The laws vary on how many and where. As a measure of caution, witnesses are not supposed to be those named as beneficiaries. Some people also chose to sign their will in front of a notary for authentication.

How to Prove That a Will is Invalid

Proving a will is invalid is very difficult. Even with evidence proving one of the grounds for a contest, the courts are the final say, and you have to convince a judge that the will is indeed false and warrants being thrown out.

Chances of Winning: Is it Worth the Time and Money?

More than 99% of all wills are processed through probate without any issue. Contesting a will is extremely hard and costly. In most cases, unless you have perfect evidence of grounds for challenging a will, it is probably not going to be worth the hassle. Your lawyer fees and paperwork could take a lot of time, courts need to review each motion, and you could stack up quite a pile of attorney’s fees before you are done and still walk away with nothing. Contesting a will is a very serious decision, and you might want to consider it carefully before moving forward. It is also a good idea to consult a legal professional to help.

What Can You Expect for Results?

You may only contest a will if you have standing, meaning a vested interest in the outcome. You must also have just cause to fight a will and be able to file paperwork on time. Even with doing everything correctly, your chances are slim that the will, will be invalidated unless it is a “do-it-yourself will,” the deceased has been isolated from friends and family for a period, or you have proof of the testator’s capacity being in question.