When someone passes away, their last will outlines how their assets and possessions should be distributed among their beneficiaries. However, this process is not always straightforward, and disputes may arise when the validity or terms of the will are challenged. These legal disputes or contested wills can result in lengthy court proceedings and considerable stress for everyone involved.
Contesting a will can occur for various reasons, but here are some main reasons a challenge may occur.
Mental capacity is one of the most common reasons for a contested will. When someone creates a will, they must have the mental capacity to fully understand the implications of their decisions. They must understand the nature and extent of their assets, beneficiaries' identities, and the effects of their decisions. They must also be able to weigh their options and make informed decisions based on their understanding of the situation.
Signs of a lack of mental capacity may include confusion, forgetfulness, impaired decision-making, or lack of understanding of their circumstances. Suppose there is evidence that the person creating the will did not have the mental capacity to understand the consequences of their decisions. In that case, the will may be contested in court.
The legal implications of a lack of mental capacity are severe. If the court finds that the person lacked the mental capacity to create a will, the entire document may be deemed invalid. The estate will then be distributed according to the intestacy laws, which may not reflect the person's true intentions.
Undue influence occurs when someone exerts pressure on the person creating the will to change their wishes in the influencer's favour. The person may be coerced or manipulated into making decisions against their best interests through physical force, verbal threats, emotional blackmail, or financial coercion.
Signs of undue influence may include sudden changes in the will's provisions, an unusual level of involvement by a particular beneficiary, or a lack of familiarity with the will's contents, resulting in a contested will.
If the court finds that the person creating the will was unduly influenced, the will may be invalidated. The court may then distribute the estate according to the person's previous will or the intestacy laws if there is no previous will.
The third primary reason for contested wills is improper execution. For a will to be legally valid, it must be executed properly, according to state law. Common mistakes in executing a will include failing to sign the will in the presence of witnesses, not having the correct number of witnesses, or failing to follow state-specific formalities.
As a result, aggrieved parties may challenge the will's validity, leading to protracted legal battles.
Contested wills can be emotionally and financially draining for everyone involved. As such, it is essential to understand why a will may be contested. If you are creating a will or administering an estate, seeking legal advice can help you avoid these pitfalls and ensure that the will's provisions are followed correctly. It is also worth noting that there are other reasons why a will may be contested, such as fraud or forgery.