What are common grounds people use to challenge a last will?

| Jun 24, 2020 | Probate

Creating a last will is usually a way for someone to take control over the legacy they leave, protect the people they love and theoretically avoid the costs involved with probate court proceedings.

However, an estate challenge by family members or beneficiaries could easily wind up in probate court despite the best efforts of the testator who created the estate plan.

Understanding reasons that people challenge a last will or estate plan will help you better plan to avoid those conflicts for your own estate.

Claims of undue influence or diminished capacity lead to challenges

When someone makes alterations to their last will late in life, especially if those changes benefit one person, their family members may challenge the newer version of their estate plan. They may claim that the individual lacked the testamentary capacity to make those changes at that point in their life, due to age or declining health, or that the person who benefited from those changes exerted undue influence on the deceased.

Especially if the person benefiting from the changes served as caregiver, family members may have grounds for concern about what role they played in the update to the last will.

Fraud or suspicions of fraud due to unhappiness can also lead to challenges

Sometimes, the last will presented to the probate courts seems totally out of character for the person who created it. In a situation like that, family members may suspect that the signature on the document doesn’t belong to the testator or that someone tricked them into signing without realizing the contents of the documents.

People who know the intentions of the deceased may suspect fraud in a situation that diverges wildly from their expressed intentions. Family members and heirs who assume certain things, like receiving an equal share split with their siblings, may also assume fraud even if that isn’t the case. 

Being transparent with your family can reduce the risk of challenges

Talking openly with your family members and heirs about the way you intend to structure your estate can make sure everyone understands and reduces the risk of unpleasant surprises during the reading of your will.

Additionally, you will want to be upfront with family members when you make changes later in life and possibly go so far as to document your mental state prior to making major changes in order to invalidate claims of undue influence or diminished capacity.