A last will and testament is a legally binding document that outlines the distribution of a person’s property after their death. Individuals who disagree with the will may contest its validity in court.
Challenges to a legal will generally stem from several common concerns on the part of the plaintiff.
Lack of capacity
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 5.8 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. In these cases, someone may challenge a will by claiming the deceased did not have the mental capacity to create or modify the document. They may also argue that the person was under the influence of medications or otherwise impaired.
Undue influence occurs when someone pressures or manipulates another person to change their will. They may use threats or duress to derive financial benefit. In this case, contestants can claim that a relative, caregiver or acquaintance took advantage of the deceased’s vulnerability.
Fraud or forgery
The person challenging the will may have proof that someone altered the document. They may also contest its authenticity if they think the deceased signed the will under false pretenses.
Disinheritance of heirs
Disputes often arise when a will disinherits close family members, such as children or a spouse. Contestants may argue that this decision was not in line with the deceased’s true intentions or that someone coerced their loved one into making such a decision.
Ambiguous or outdated language
Wills should be as clear as possible to prevent legal challenges. If the document contains vague or contradictory language, interested parties could file an objection to the court’s interpretation.
Someone can also challenge a will if the deceased did not update the document to reflect important life changes. Contestants may argue that the outdated will does not reflect the deceased’s intentions if it does not cover recent marriages, births or divorces.
Lack of witness or proper execution
Individuals must execute their wills with the proper legal formalities, including signatures and witness requirements. Interested persons can challenge the document as invalid in the absence of these protocols.
Challenges to a will often arise from genuine concerns about the validity or fairness of the document. Careful estate planning can clarify your wishes to reduce the likelihood that someone will contest your will in court.