When we write our wills and trusts, we want to believe that the documents are valid and will accurately represent our wishes and intentions after we are gone. If we decide to leave our assets to a certain beneficiary, then the will’s intentions should not be challenged.
There are, however, reasons why someone may seek to contest a will.
Perhaps someone believes they should have been a beneficiary but was left out of the will. Or maybe they have reason to believe that the will was written during a time of duress or failing mental capacity, resulting in a false or invalid document.
Can a will be challenged? Yes. Will that challenge succeed? Only in rare circumstances.
Who Can Contest Someone’s Last Will and Testament?
To limit random or minor players in a person’s life from stepping up to contest a will, the law generally requires that those who would seek to challenge a will be someone with close familial relations.
The two most common types of individuals that may have the legal right to contest a will are:
- If someone was set to have inherited more under a previous iteration of the will, they may have the right to step up and contest the new will.
- Those who would have inherited more if there had been no will at all (for example, those who were written out of the will, like disinherited children, disowned family. Spouses, siblings, or offspring that would have inherited money had there been no will at all may have the right to challenge the will, feeling it unfair that they were left out.)
What Are Reasonable Grounds to Contest a Will?
In order to contest a will, one must show grounds that the document is somehow invalid and unfit for probate court. In New York, a will may be contested under the following grounds:
- Fraud: It is possible that the will’s author was under influence of another party while writing their will, potentially even under duress, making the will invalid.
- Incapacitation: If it can be proven that the will’s author lacked the capacity to write their will and was not ‘of their right mind’, then it may not be valid in a court of law.
- Revocation: The will was revoked or canceled before the person who wrote it passed away.
- Undue Execution: Leaving a will behind is not simply a formality. A will must be properly executed in order to be valid.
What Should You Do if You Fear Someone Challenging Your Will After Your Death?
If you have reason to fear someone may challenge your will, speak with an estate planning attorney. Your lawyer will know how better to proceed so that your will can better avoid potential challenges.
There may be no-contest clauses and other legal tactics for your lawyer to consider.