A will contest means that someone raised a formal objection against the will. Usually, the argument is based on the idea that the person who made the will was not in the right mind, whether incapacitated or being subject to fraud. A will can be contested in whole or just in part.
Will Contests: A Formal Objection Against the Will
A will can be contested by the beneficiaries and heirs. In some situations, minors are allowed to contest a will as well. But sometimes, a will includes “no contest” clauses, which can add a snag to the situation.
A person who is named as a beneficiary to a will has the standing to contest the will. It doesn’t matter if they are relatives or not related to the deceased. Beneficiaries can be children, grandchildren, a spouse, other relatives, friends, nonprofit organizations, charities, and pets.
Usually heirs are set to inherit via the will of the deceased. However, a will may not exist. But heirs have the right to contest a will if they believe that they did not receive a fair share. Heirs are generally children, grandchildren, siblings, parents, spouses, or grandparents.
In cases where a minor wishes to contest a will, they must wait until they reach the age of 18. According to the law, minors cannot start a legal proceeding until they are of adult age. However, an executor or court representative could contest a will on the behalf of the minor.
No Contest Clauses
Some wills try to strong-arm beneficiaries from contesting the will by including a “no contest” clause. This “no contest” clause basically requires that someone who tries to contest the will makes a choice to “take it or leave it” at the end of the day. Despite the existence of the “no contest” clause, the clause is rarely enforceable.
Contest Will Standing Example
As you already know, usually the only people who can contest a will are named as a beneficiary or are a heir.
Louise creates a will giving $6k to her husband, her brother, and her friend. Her husband hates her brother and wants Louise to disown him from the will or he’ll divorce her. Then, Louise’s brother tells her that her husband is cheating on her. Louise rewrites her will, cutting both men from her will, and giving all the money to her friend. The attorney writes $1800 instead of $18k.
Louise’s husband can contest the will.
Her brother can contest.
The friend can sue the lawyer for malpractice.
Someone not named in the will without any familial bond cannot contest the will.
8 Reasons to Will Contest
Certain situations can cause a will to be considered invalid. When the validity of the will is under question, this can be good evidence for contesting the will. Other factors can be weighed into the analysis as well, including mental capacity, fraud, and undue influence.
How a will is signed and witnessed can be a critical part in determining if the will is valid. The will must meet your state’s standards and be signed by the will holder as well as two witnesses. If the will wasn’t signed by a witness or the signature isn’t the will holder’s, then the will could be invalid.
The most common argument for a will contest is mental capacity. Testamentary capacity means that the person signing the will understands the assets, the heirs, and the effect of the will upon signing. People in the early stages of dementia often meet the state standards for testamentary capacity.
Fraud on a will invalidates the document. A simple example of fraud is lying to someone about the paper they’re signing when it’s actually the will. That’s illegal fraud.
Sometimes a caretaker for the elderly individual becomes such a big part of the will signer’s life that the caretaker makes the elder individual agree to almost anything. The will signer trusts the caretaker so much that they can be influenced to make decisions that they may not actually want. This can cause a will contest.
Legal formalities can be missed when a will is written by the signer. Some “what ifs” you may not know how to plan for in your own will. The point of a will is to have the estate distributed according to your will. If something isn’t named, it may need to be handled by the probate court.
In Pennsylvania, a will is only valid if the person who created the will is 18 years old or older. Some states may allow younger individuals to create a will if married or in the military.
Rules on Witnesses
In most cases, witnesses cannot be named in the will. If they are named, their inheritance might be considered void. Most states also require two witnesses.
Home of the Will Maker
When a will maker dies, the will is valid if it met the state standards or the legal standards of wherever the maker considered their permanent residence. A person who has a summer home would have to ensure that their will was valid in their home state.
Do You Want to Contest a Will?
If you think you have a good reason to contest a will, you will want an estate planning attorney to help determine your next steps to regain your lost inheritance. If you believe the will was invalid due to any of the above reasons, you should consult a lawyer immediately.