Through the legal process known as a Will Contest you could have the entire document, or parts of it, voided. At that point, a prior will and testament could be reinstated as the legal wishes of the deceased or if there was no prior will the assets would be handled as if no will existed. Our exprienced probate litigation attorneys:
- Fight on your behalf to claim what is rightfull yours
- Ensure your claim as a beneficiary is not ignored
- Guarantee you are treated with the dignity and respect you deserve
Contesting a will is a legal challenge to the validity of a will or of any of the terms of a will.
Such challenges are usually posed by family members of the deceased who feel that they have been cheated out of their inheritance or some portion of their inheritance.
If the family members feel they have something to gain by challenging the terms of the will, a legal contest is the best way to determine if the will is actually valid.
Will challenges are most common in wealthy families due to the extensive assets and large monetary amounts often involved.
Verifying the legitimacy of a will is known as probate and there are special probate courts which are specifically used to hear the legal issues regarding wills, estates and trusts.
Determining the ability to challenge a will is fairly straightforward:
Those entitled to contest the terms are said to have standing in the probate court and are those who have been specifically named in the will or those who would stand to inherit if the current will is found to be invalid. The latter group typically includes spouses, children and other blood relatives of the deceased.
Those who are not related by blood, such as in-laws, foster children, and stepchildren, are typically not included in the group of those who have standing in probate court, unless they are specifically mentioned in the will.
If there is some question regarding a parent/child relationship there are other legal proceedings used to create or refute that relationship.Review My Case Now
The first step to take when contesting a will is to establish a legal basis for the challenge. There are a variety of ways that this legal basis can be established, including:
- When the will was drafted or signed, the will maker was not mentally competent
- There was pressure placed on the will maker to agree to the terms of the will
- There is a second will that was created by the will maker that trumps the current will
- There was no proper witnessing or signing of the will
- There was fraud or some misleading information used to induce the will maker to sign the will
Courts will always attempt to interpret a will according to what they believe the wishes of the deceased were. Even so, there are still state laws and public policy that can determine how the document is interpreted.
Any time the will violates public policy or state law, it will be considered invalid by the probate court.
When there is a will contest, one of the most important factors in the eyes of the court is any evidence of the deceased's intentions.
Any witnesses to the signing of the will become very important, but there may be other pieces of evidence which the court uses to make its decision. The attorney who drafted the will also becomes extremely important for the court to determine what the intentions of the deceased were.
Anything in writing, including testimonies and even letters, will be very important in determining why someone may have been excluded from a will. Such written testimony is often used carefully though. When exclusions are conditional it is possible for an attorney to argue that the conditions for the exclusion were never met.Review My Case Now
The best way to avoid a will contest is for the will maker to follow good planning and drafting procedures when creating the will.
Those with a large amount of assets can avoid being contested by avoiding such measures as disinheriting family members and other divisive actions that will cause family conflicts and invite challenges.
Using other legal formats such as trusts can help to pass assets to others and avoid having to include those assets in a will. Here are some additional guidelines that can be used to help avoid will contests:
- Avoid making statements that can lead to animosity amongst family members. This includes disinheriting family members.
- Whenever a will is made, family members should be aware of the existence of the will. When the will becomes necessary, a contest out of panic can be avoided if friends and family members already know that a will exists.
- Including no contest clauses in the will can avoid challenges. A no contest clause typically gives a certain asset to someone and by accepting the asset they agree not to contest the will.
- When passing sizeable assets use a trust rather than including them in a will.
If you feel that you are legally entitled to an inheritance and have been deprived of what is rightfully yours you need to contact an attorney immediately to preserve your rights.
If you feel that the estate was drafted improperly or that the will maker was incompetent when the will was drafted, you should contact one of our qualified attorneys so that we may fight for justice on your behalf.
Our experienced attorneys can review your case and advise you of your legal rights and begin the process of securing what you are entitled... and your claiming the inheritance that is your due.
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