Why do family members contest wills in probate court?

On Behalf of | Jul 10, 2024 | Estate Administration

A will serves as someone’s final instructions for their loved ones. They explain what they want to do with their property and what arrangements they have made for the support of their dependence.

Typically, those who take the time to create wills have specific intentions for their property and hope to leave certain unique types of support for their family members. They may also name someone they trust to oversee estate administration. The personal representative of an estate and the probate courts usually try to uphold terms left by a decedent in their will and other estate planning documents.

Occasionally, the surviving family members of someone who dies take issue with their will. They may believe that there is something wrong with the documents that justifies asking the probate courts to set them aside. What reasons do families sometimes have for contesting someone’s will after they die?

Only certain grounds are valid

Probate laws limit when interested parties can take legal action against estate planning paperwork. The burden of the proof falls to the plaintiffs in such cases. In other words, concerned family members need to have evidence supporting their assertions that there are issues with the will.

The grounds for contesting a will include illegal or invalid documents, undue influence, a lack of capacity and fraud. Scenarios involving fraud might involve allegations that alterations or manipulations occurred.

Illegal wills might include terms that technically violate state law. Invalid documents may not meet the necessary standard for enforceable testamentary instruments. Someone may have left a video will, for example, or documents on a computer with no witness signatures.

Claims of undue influence involve an assertion that a third party manipulated or forced the testator into making estate planning changes. Lack of capacity occurs when a testator creates or updates documents when their physical or mental health prevents them from understanding their actions.

Will contests are not particularly common, but they typically occur because family members have serious concerns. If the final instructions included in a will are much different than someone’s prior wishes, families may have questions. Pursuing probate litigation is sometimes necessary to correct an issue that might damage someone’s legacy. Families who understand when litigation is possible can decide if and when a lawsuit may be necessary.