Have you ever watched a movie where a person dies, and the heirs are left in a court debacle contesting a will they don’t agree to? This may seem like a very dramatic scenario, but it does happen in real life. Almost all wills make it to court probate without any issue. But there are still instances when there’s just a dirty, long, and ugly dispute between the heirs.
The hardest thing about these disputes is that the person who wrote the will is already dead. They won’t be present to attest to the validity and true intentions of their will. In this case, it’s now up to the court to settle the disputes based on legal procedure and circumstantial situations presented by the family members who question the will’s content. It’s up to you, as a purported beneficiary, to learn how to find out if someone left you money you’re entitled to.
So, what are the common reasons why wills are contested in court? Here’s a breakdown of some instances:
Lack Of Testamentary Capacity
Testamentary capacity refers to the legal capacity of an individual to make a will. The law requires that only persons aged 18 years or older have the legal capacity to make a will. Minors cannot generally make a will, save in rare instances like when they’re serving in the military or when they’re married. These exceptions to the general rule don’t universally apply, so always check with your local laws.
Adults who are 18 years or older are presumed to possess testamentary capacity. When this is questioned, it’s usually due to situations like the adult lacking the mental capacity to make a will, such as when they’re under the influence of illegal substances or if they’re suffering from mental disorders like dementia, senility, and insanity.
To challenge a will based on the lack of mental capacity, the individual contesting the will should be able to prove that the will’s author didn’t have a sound mind to understand the consequences of making the will fully.
Lack Of Full Understanding To Comprehend And Approve The Will’s Contents
Apart from mental incapacity, the court’s suspicion may also be aroused on the basis that the deceased didn’t fully understand how a will operates, nor did they also fully approve of the will’s content.
Some examples of such situations include:
- There’s a notion or direction that the will be signed by someone else.
- That the deceased suffered from a hearing, vision, or speech impediment.
- The deceased was frail and vulnerable, with the resulting will being quite unusual.
- That the deceased had poor literacy levels.
Failure To Comply With Formalities
Drafting a will isn’t just something one can do overnight, leave in their desk, and then rely on that document to be legally valid once they die. There are certain formalities to comply with.
While those may differ from one jurisdiction to another, some of the general formalities required to create a will and make estate plans valid are:
- First, it must be in writing.
- It must be written in a language known to the testator or the will’s author.
- It must be signed by the testator, which is witnessed by at least three witnesses who aren’t beneficiaries or married to the beneficiaries identified in the will.
- It must be signed on every page.
- It must be numbered accordingly if there are multiple pages to prevent the likelihood of having pages removed or added.
Fraud, Forgery, And Undue Influence
Another valid reason to contest or challenge a will in court is when you can show that the will was either forged or made under force or undue influence. This means that the will is either a fake document or that it was drafted without the voluntary intention of the testator.
Generally, this can happen when there’s a manipulator in the picture who forces the testator to leave a majority or all of the latter’s property to him or some other person. In this instance, it should be shown that the testator was merely forced or intimidated to make the will.
This is a scenario wherein someone financially dependent on the testator was omitted in the will or felt that they don’t have adequate provision for the financial maintenance they’ve been used to receiving from the deceased.
Several jurisdictions will accept this contention. However, strict parameters would apply, like the claim should be made within six months of the issuance of the Grant of Probate and that it should only be made by the following:
- A spouse or a civil partner.
- A former spouse or civil partner who hasn’t remarried.
- A co-habitant who lived in the deceased home for at least two years before their death.
- Any child or children of the deceased.
- Any other individual who the decedent has financially supported before their death.
Please note that the list above serves only as a general guide. Don’t take this as something absolute and a hundred percent applicable where you’re from. Laws on succession and estate planning may differ from one state to another, so it’s still best to check with your lawyer. You can gain no better advice than that one straight from the legal experts themselves. With their legal advice, you may be able to successfully contest a will for as long as the legal grounds are valid and existing.