Will Contest

What does Will Contest mean?

Heirs may formally contest a will or raise objections about its validity if they believe the will does not reflect the intentions of the decedent or testator. There are four valid legal reasons a will can be contested.

First, the will must have been signed according to the appropriate state laws. State laws vary. For instance, in California the will must be in writing, signed by the testator, and witnessed by two witnesses. The witness must observe the testator signing the will or have validation from the testator that the signature is their signature. Each witness must also sign the will in the presence of the testator and the other witness. If any of these requirements are not met the validity of the will may be challenged.

A will may also be challenged if there is reason to believe the testator did not have the testamentary ability to sign the will. For instance, a challenge may succeed if it can be proven the testator did not understand the value and nature of their estate, the legal result of signing the will, or who should logically inherit the assets. It is difficult to prove a testator lacked testamentary capacity without valid witness testimony or doctor's testimony within days of the signing.

Next, a will may be challenged if the challenger can prove the testator was influenced unduly to sign the will. For instance, if Aunt Linda convinced grandma to change her will leaving Aunt Linda all of her money, paid to have the will drawn up, held the will in her safe, and isolated grandma from her friends and family immediately following the will modification the court may decide Aunt Linda unduly influenced grandma. Note, however, the court generally does not consider nagging, threats, or verbal abuse as "undue influence."

Finally, a will may be contested and overturned if the challenger can prove the will was procured by fraud. For instance, if Aunt Linda hands grandma a piece of paper which grandma believes is a deed or power of attorney but Aunt Linda has tricked grandma and has instead given her an updated will, then the court will decide the will is invalid because it has been procured by fraud.

Proving fraud can be difficult, however, because the testator cannot be questioned. To prove fraud the court will question the witnesses and decide if the witnesses understood they were witnessing the signing of a will.

Can I challenge the validity of a will?

Given the information provided above it is clear that challenging a will can only be done through legitimate legal reasons. In fact, unless you can prove with valid medical evidence that the testator was incapacitated, the testator did not know what they were signing, the laws of the state were not followed, or someone was able to unduly influence the testator it will be impossible to have a will overturned.

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