It’s an ugly reality.
Mourning the death of a loved one, then learning they cut you out of their will.
You may have every right to a relative’s good fortune once they’re gone. What can you do?
If you feel like you’ve been left out of a will unjustly, you can contest it.
Are you trying to figure out how to successfully contest a will If yes, you should check out our guide here on the essential things to know and do.
Can You Contest a Will?
Yes, you can! Take this example.
A daughter has a loving, caring relationship with her mother. She takes care of her mother throughout her final days, making sure she is comfortable until the end.
While not wealthy, the mother owns her house and is well-enough off to leave assets for loved ones after she dies.
The subject of inheritance never comes up.
Then, after her mother’s passing, the daughter realizes her mother left everything to a boyfriend, and nothing to her.
The daughter is hurt and dumbfounded by this prospect. How could her mother leave her with absolutely nothing?
As sad as this seems, it happens all the time. Rightful heirs find themselves without a penny. According to the law, a relative in this situation has every right to contest a will.
Why would a relative leave them out? Was that relative of sound enough mind to make decisions about their will? Could someone have taken advantage of them? Was the document even crafted appropriately?
If you want to contest a will, there are some fundamental things you should know first.
How to Successfully Contest a Will
The first thing to know before contesting a will is that your chances of success may be slim.
You must have sufficient evidence to back up your claim, but most importantly, you must qualify as a valid, interested party.
Standing is the legal way of asking, “who are you to contest a will”? According to the law, you must prove the will affects you personally.
Here are a few qualifications that define your standing in a will dispute:
Proper standing is your foundation for successfully contesting a will.
When it comes to standing, you can’t just come out of nowhere and contest anybody’s will. You have to show the significance of your relationship to the testate (the person who made the will).
Without good standing, you can’t move forward with a case, so it’s essential to understand and be able to prove your level of personal involvement.
Once you have standing, you must then have proper grounds for contesting a will. Grounds are the legally valid reasons for contesting a will. Here are the most common types of grounds successful will disputes draw on.
1) Formality. Did the will’s crafters put it through of the formalities that would make it binding and legal? Estate law governs wills, and each state has its specific estate laws.
For example, many state laws require two witnesses present to sign a will. In many cases, the witness can not be a beneficiary.
Often do-it-yourself wills lack the formality needed to hold up in court. Many successful disputes draw on a will’s lack of validity as a legal document.
2) Mental Capacity. Did the testate possess the mental capacity to make sound or fair decisions about the will?
If not, you may be able to contest a will based on their inability to reason.
3) Undue Influence. Even if the testate was of sound mind, did someone pressure or influence them into making the will favor one beneficiary over another?
Could a particularly aggressive or manipulative family member have pushed them to leave you out, or to give you far less than you deserve?
4) Fraud or Forgery. Sometimes, the problem is outright criminality. If you can prove that a will is fraudulent or that someone forged one of its signatures, you may have a good chance at a successful dispute.
For example, a criminal might convince a testate that they are signing the actual will, when, in fact, it is not. Or they might lie to the testate about the provisions in the will they are signing.
In more egregious cases, someone might convince a testate that a particular family member or heir is dead. As a result, a will distributes an estate differently than it would otherwise.
Whatever grounds you think you have, the most important thing is to have ample proof. Evidence is the key to any successful will contest.
Will disputes can be a long, emotional rollercoaster for everyone involved. Nevertheless, contesting a will can have significant financial implications.
Going into a will dispute, you’ll need an attorney. An estate lawyer with a track record of success in will contests is the single best investment you can make if you’re in this situation.
After a testate has passed away, there is a timeline for acting on a will dispute. Each state’s estate laws may differ in the length of time you have to act.
Sometimes, you have weeks to act, sometimes years. You must know how much time you have so that you can begin a will contest soon enough.
You don’t want to lose an otherwise successful will dispute based on a timeline technicality.
The Courage to Contest a Will
How do you successfully contest a will? You do it through standing, grounds, evidence, and legal help.
But there’s one more thing you need, and that’s the courage to act. Trust that your loved one’s legacy includes you, then go forth and claim what’s rightfully yours.
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