Is A Will Set In Stone? Who Can Contest A Will And Why?

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Wills aren't set in stone. There's several situations in which someone can contest a will. It's not easy to contest a will, but if it does happen, it can turn into a protracted legal battle.

Who Can Contest a Will?

There's a narrow category of people that can contest a will.

  • People directly named in the will
  • People directly named in older versions of the will
  • Named beneficiaries
  • Heirs to the estate

Also, anyone who would have received a share of the estate if there were no will, can contest it. The people that fall into this category often have "standing." Proving they have standing is the first step towards contesting a will.

Why Would Someone Contest a Will?

Just because someone has standing doesn't mean they have grounds to contest a will. They must have a reason for doing it. With a will, there's only a few legal reasons available. Most of those reasons have to do with the validity of the will itself.

Was the will signed properly? There are state laws that dictate how a testator must sign a last will and testament to make it valid. Usually, the signing requires one or more witnesses. Someone with legal standing can contest the will if they believe the testator didn't follow the proper signing procedure.

Did the testator understand what a will entails? Although difficult to prove, if the testator lacked testamentary capacity, it can render the will invalid.

Was there undue influence in the signing? Undue influence implies the testator signed due to force, coercion, or under duress. Also in this category are things like fraud and forgery. For example, if someone tricked the testator into signing the will, or manipulated them, the will can become invalid.

Do multiple wills exist? Usually, the more recent copy of a will trumps older versions. If the newer copy suffers from any of the previously mentioned reasons to contest a will, then the older copy may win the day. How courts handle this will vary, as they're always situational.

An Example with the Disinherited

Starting with these reasons or variations on them, a person of legal standing can contest a will for many alternative reasons. For example, someone who would have received a part of the estate under a previous will can find themselves disinherited in the final will.

This person will have standing to contest a will. This kind of thing can happen if the testator had children from a previous marriage, then more from a current marriage.

Contested Estate Probate Can Become Complicated

There's a lot of rules and laws involved, as well as loopholes that can snag you. Contested estate probate isn't something to take lightly, especially when it concerns real property, such as real estate.

You should speak to a lawyer immediately if you suspect you may have to challenge a will. Alternatively, seek legal aid if you think someone will challenge a will.

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