Some probate litigation focuses on the actions of the executor handling the estate or the trustee managing specific assets. These individuals empowered by the courts or by testamentary documents may prove incompetent or might use their position for personal gain.
Although will contests may not occur as frequently as challenges against the person administering an estate, they are still a major source of probate litigation. When do family members or beneficiaries potentially have grounds to challenge someone’s estate plan or will in probate court?
The situation involves fraud
Fraud in an estate planning scenario can take numerous forms. One example would be an individual tricking a testator into signing documents without knowing their content. Another form of estate fraud occurs when someone makes changes to existing documents for their own financial gain.
If you have reason to question the validity of the estate documents, you may have grounds to challenge the will based on suspicion of fraud.
Someone exerted undue influence
Another common reason for family members to question the contents of a will is undue influence. Those who live with or frequently visit an older adult may manipulate or coerce them into making changes to their estate plan.
Undue influence could involve someone fabricating a story to make themselves seem sympathetic and convincing a testator to leave them a larger share of the estate because of their misfortune. A caregiver withholding food and medicine as a way to demand a larger inheritance is another example of undue influence. If someone other than the testator made decisions about what happened with their property, that may give the family grounds to challenge their will or other testamentary documents.
The deceased lacked testamentary capacity
Not all older adults retain the cognitive clarity necessary to create legally-binding documents. Someone experiencing cognitive decline caused by medical issues or age may lack the legal capacity to draft binding documents.
If you can show, whether through medical records or evidence about someone’s daily behavior, that they lacked capacity at the time of the document’s creation, the courts may agree that it is not a valid will.
Family members who are unhappy with the terms of a last will need to consider carefully whether their circumstances fall into one of the few categories that allow for a contest. Learning more about the grounds for probate litigation can help those questioning the accuracy of an estate plan.