Many people consider an estate plan a concrete set of documents that shouldn’t be altered or revised. Unfortunately, this is the wrong way to think of a comprehensive plan. Significant life events and various changes should result in an amended document. There are times, however, when estate planning documents – namely a will – contain invalid changes.
Simply disagreeing with the terms of a will is no reason to challenge its validity. However, there are four very specific scenarios that could lead to a successful will contest.
- The will wasn’t signed in accordance with applicable state laws. It is important to understand your state’s particular requirements and regulations regarding signatures and witnesses. Generally, there are only specific circumstances where the signatures and witnesses are valid.
- The testator lacked testamentary capacity to sign a will. This is generally a question of mental capacity. Does the testator genuinely understand the changes he or she has made? Whether due to dementia, memory loss or various diseases of perception, it is possible that the testator has been confused through the entire process.
- Undue influence. Many heirs worry about the frailty of their elderly loved ones and the possibility that someone has exerted influence to get changes made to a will. This could be doctors, nurses, spiritual advisors or those purporting to be friends of the testator. Simple threats and verbal abuse might not be enough to challenge the validity of the will. An investigation will attempt to find evidence of extreme pressure and severe duress.
- The will was procured by fraud. These scenarios are often linked to those including testamentary capacity. Was the testator told to sign a deed and it was actually a revised will? If so, the will was procured by fraud.
Challenging a loved one’s will can be an emotionally turbulent experience. It is wise to proceed under the care of an experienced legal professional to ensure all steps are completed in the most efficient and effective manner possible.