Though contesting a will makes great fodder for fictional legal dramas, contests to wills are not as common—or usually as successful—as often portrayed.
A contest to a will is an attempt to invalidate the document after the death of the person who made the will (known as the testator).
There are only a few legitimate reasons that a court will consider a contest to a will. Bear these in mind before you decide to proceed. The cost for these types of actions may be higher than whatever financial benefit you think you may get by doing so.
Here are the reasons that a will may be found invalid:
The will is unsigned or the signature is invalid. If a will is not signed by the testator, it may be invalid. Additionally, if the signatures of witnesses are required (state laws vary) the validity of the will may be called into question if these are missing. Some states, like New Jersey, require signatures of two witnesses, though there is a provision that a will can still be considered as a legal document even if it is missing witness signatures, provided that the testator has filled out and signed the bulk of the will. Wills that contain forged signatures are automatically invalidated.
The testator lacked “Testamentary Capacity” or exhibited signs of an “Insane Delusion”. The validity of a will may be called into question if it can be demonstrated that the will’s creator lacked the ability to understand the contents of will, or was operating in a delusional state that was out of touch with reality. More importantly, the mental incapacity of the testator must be proven to have exerted an influence at the time of the will’s signing. This would have to be proved with evidence from the testator’s medical records, or substantiated by witnesses to the testator’s mental state at the time the will was signed.
An outside party is found to have exerted undue influence in the creation and/or signing of the will. Undue influence means that the testator was coerced into signing the will, against their own best interests. Suspicion of undue influence may arise when the beneficiary of the will is involved in its creation (for instance, a will made out leaving everything to the attorney who drafted it would raise red flags). But suspicion is not enough to prove undue influence, and the burden of proof is on the person contesting the will.
The will was signed under false pretenses or procured by fraud. If the testator signed the will thinking that it was another document, or was in some other way tricked into signing it, there may be cause to contest the will.
The will was created under duress. You cannot, for instance, hold a gun to somebody’s head and get them to sign their estate over to you. A will created under such conditions of physical threat would be invalid.
A will may be contested by any beneficiary named in the will, or by a party not named in the will who would stand to inherit the property if the will is contested. A will may not be contested because it seems unfair to those who are or believe they should be its beneficiaries. The only important determination is whether the document represents the actual wishes and cognizant intentions of the Testator.
If have questions about your own will, or need help with your estate planning, call us for a free consultation s at (856) 227-7888, or contact us at email@example.com. We have locations in Camden, Burlington, and Gloucester counties, and are happy to discuss your options.
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The above is not specific legal advice nor does it create a lawyer-client relationship. Do not rely upon it without consulting an attorney to see how the information presented fits your unique circumstances.