Estate planning is the only way to exercise some control over our property after we die. A last will and testament is a basic and important tool in almost every estate plan, allowing its author to direct the destination of assets after death.
Usually, family members and other beneficiaries under a will accept the directives of the deceased. In some cases, however, some of the beneficiaries do not approve of the way the property is distributed. A daughter may find herself receiving a lesser share than her siblings. Mom may have promised a family heirloom to her oldest son, but changed her will after moving to another child’s house. A remarried widow may bequeath her assets to her new husband’s children, leaving her old children out of the will.
In cases like these — the permutations are as numerous as the web of family relationships that generate them — the disgruntled relatives may contest the will. Anyone with financial interests in the deceased’s estate who could suffer harm can challenge the will before the court. Since a court must honor a will that properly reflects the desires of the deceased, the possible challenges must in some way cast doubt that the last will and testament is indeed what the deceased wanted.
Challenges To A Will
The classic challenges to a will include:
- Undue influence. A common example of undue influence is a child or other relative badgering, harassing, or deceiving an elderly parent to change the will in his or her favor.
- Fraud. A case of fraud might involve someone tricking the deceased into signing a fraudulent will, perhaps by lying about what the document says or presenting a different document to be signed than the one expected.
- Improper execution. The law requires that when signing a will, you must declare to two witnesses and sign it in their presence. The witnesses must also sign the will. If these requirements are missing, the will may be invalid.
- Lack of capacity. A person making a will must be of sound mind and memory, capable of understanding what the will stipulates. If not, this might invalidate the will.
It is important to prepare a last will and testament that takes into account all of your estate planning needs, accurately reflects your wishes, and can withstand possible challenges and the resulting court scrutiny. If you are considering drafting or updating your will, contact an experienced estate planning attorney for a free consultation to see how we can help.