Most of the time, the probate process starts off without a hitch. The will of the decedent is located and submitted to the court for probate. The will is verified and accepted by the court and so things begin. Sometimes, however, there are issues that arise in verifying the validity of the will. Now, in some of these cases, a will contest action arises because someone is upset by what they perceive as “unfair” terms of the will. It is worth mentioning right from the start that a will cannot be deemed as invalid simply because the terms are considered unfair by some. Other times, however, there are legitimate concerns as to whether the will truly reflects what the decedent wanted. There are legitimate concerns as to whether the testator knew what they were doing when executing the will and whether the will was properly executed. Here, we will talk more about will contest actions, what they involved, and potential results.
Will Contest Actions
To start things off, it is important to know that not just anyone can bring a will contest action. In order to contest a will, a person must have legal standing to do so. There are two types of people that have standing to contest a will. The first type include those who would inherit under the terms of the will that would be contested. The second type include those that would inherit if the will was tossed out. This means that the second type include those that would inherit under a previous version of the decedent’s will or under the state’s intestacy laws.
In addition to standing, a person contesting a will must also have valid grounds to contest the will. As previously stated, simply stating that the will is “unfair” will not suffice. Grounds to contest a will include:
- Lack of testamentary capacity
- Undue influence
- Lack of formalities in executing the will
In addition to being able to assert valid grounds for a will contest, the person bringing the will contest must have evidence to support their assertion. Solid evidence and witness testimony play a critical role in will contest actions. The court is likely to grant wide deference to the proffered will as it is seen as the trust wishes of the deceased until proven otherwise.
At the end of a will contest action, the court can do one of four things. First, the court may find that the will is, in fact, valid. Second, the court may find that the will is valid in part, but parts of it are invalid and must be tossed out. Third, the court may find that the will is invalid in full and they must revert to a previous version of the will. Fourth, the court may find that the will is invalid in full and, therefore, there is no valid will in place. Without a valid will, the state’s intestacy laws will dictate how the estate of the decedent is to be distributed.