As a beneficiary of a will, if you do not agree with how the assets are being distributed, you may have grounds for contesting the will. MSN’s recent article entitled “Contesting a Will? You Might Not Need a Lawyer” says to do this you must have a legitimate legal reason to challenge the will, such as one of the most common arguments:
- Lack of mental capacity. If the person making the will (the “testator”) was not “of sound mind,” he or she may not understand their decisions. The testator must be able to understand what they own, who their natural heirs are and what they are giving and to whom.
- Fraud, undue influence, or forgery. Some people are tricked into signing a will, are forced to create a will under duress, or have their signature forged.
- Multiple wills. In this situation, the one that was made most recently is often the one that the courts will decide is valid. However, wills created immediately before death may be contested due to undue influence, lack of mental capacity, or other reasons.
- The state requirements are not met. Every state has specific requirements as to what must be in a will, the way in which it is signed, and the number of witnesses required. If these elements are not met, then the will may not be valid.
- Location. Some states may not recognize wills created in another state.
To contest the will, you must have legal standing, which means you must meet one of these requirements:
- A prior will designates you as a beneficiary;
- The current will designates you as a beneficiary;
- You are the beneficiary of a more recent will made after the one in question; or
- You would be an heir if there was no will, and the state’s laws of intestacy were applied.
Your attorney will next file a petition in the state probate court where the estate is under probate. This tells the probate court and the estate that you are contesting the will. If your case is not settled, it goes to court where you will make your argument as to why the will should be changed. The court will decide the outcome of your case.
A way to keep family members from fighting over an estate is add a no-contest clause into the will. This disinherits anyone who challenges a will, if their challenge fails. In order words, if you do not win your challenge, you get nothing from the estate.
Reference: MSN (May 30, 2022) “Contesting a Will? You Might Not Need a Lawyer”
Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys