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Contesting a will or trust

Most parents hope when they pass away, their children will all remain devoted to one another. Unfortunately, that is not always the case, especially not when there is an inheritance involved.

Money tends to bring out the worst in people, especially if they feel they have been slighted. It may start with a disagreement and then turn into a full-blown feud with their will or trust now being contested in probate court.

Who can contest a will and last testament?

Only a spouse or children of the deceased, or heirs mentioned in the will, can contest a will or last testament. Heirs listed in a previous will can also contest if they believe the new will is invalid.

What are valid reasons for contesting a will?

A person cannot contest a will without a legitimate reason. A will cannot be contested just because an heir disagrees with the content or feels it is unfair. Legitimate reasons might be;

  • The will was not properly executed. If the deceased person's signature is questionable, its validity may be questioned. For instance, an heir believes the signature has been forged, or it has not been witnessed.
  • The benefactor was not mentally stable when the will was signed. He or she must have been able to fully understand the effects of the will and know who their beneficiaries and heirs were at the time of signing.
  • Fraud. The benefactor was deceived and made to believe he or she was signing another type of document, such as a health care proxy or other contract.
  • The benefactor was unduly influenced or coerced into signing the will. This might occur by someone who was controlling him or her, such as a caretaker or someone assisting him or her with his or her day-to-day decisions.

What happens when a will is contested?

The court looks at all facts when a will or trust is contested. If it is found to be invalid, it can be thrown out. Earlier versions of a will may replace a newer invalid will. When no other wills or trusts exist, the court will distribute the benefactor's estate and assets using the state's probate laws.

If you are an heir to a will or trust that you believe is invalid or being mishandled, an attorney can help. Probate processes can be quarrelsome and lengthy requiring intensive litigation.

Source: LegalZoom, "Sibling Rivalry: What Happens When a Sibling Disputes a Parent’s Will," Brette Sember, accessed Dec. 22, 2017

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