Your will is the cornerstone of your estate plan and, though there are other components, this document is one of the most important ways to protect your legacy at death. You are able to take advantage of a wide array of benefits when preparing a will, but the overall plus is that you save time and money. If you die intestate without a will to appoint an executor, distribute assets, and wrap up your final affairs, disputes may develop among your loved ones.
However, a will does not always offer 100% protection against conflict. Any party with an interest in the estate can file a will contest, alleging that the document is invalid for some reason. This scenario might run contrary to your intentions, so it is good to know that there are options for preventing a will contest in some states. You should consult with a probate and will contest attorney about the best strategy for your unique situation, but an overview is useful.
Basics About Contesting a Will
The point of the process is to raise issues and inconsistencies in the execution of the will. The challenge to the will is filed in the probate case during estate administration, and all US states have deadlines for taking the matter to court. For example, an individual may file a will contest to:
- Dispute improprieties in signing the will, such as having it properly notarized and witnessed;
- Bring forth evidence of forgery or fraud;
- Raise questions about the testamentary capacity of the testator, especially when the person suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or memory issues; and,
- Introduce evidence that there was undue influence or duress in drafting or executing the will.
From these descriptions, you can see that a will contest is appropriate in many contexts. The process protects you and your estate from misconduct. The alternative viewpoint is that will contests are expensive and your estate incurs legal fees to defend the document.
Additional Points to Know About Will Contests
A key factor with these proceedings is understanding what happens when someone is successful in having the will declared invalid. The impact is as if the will was never executed, so the person who signed it essentially dies intestate. The laws in every US state vary, but intestacy laws typically result in a distribution of assets to:
- The surviving spouse;
- Minor children;
- Adult children;
- Siblings; and,
- Further distant relatives.
One way to avoid a will contest from affecting your estate is to include a “no-contest” clause. The implications vary according to jurisdiction, and some states do not allow them. For instance, in Florida, a no-contest clause in a will that penalizes the contestor is unenforceable.
Learn More About Will Contests from a Knowledgeable Estate Planning Lawyer
A will contest might seem to thwart your intentions, but it is encouraging to know that there are protections when someone signs a will in the presence of misconduct. For additional details, please contact Francois Williams Legal LLC. We can schedule a consultation and meet with you virtually to discuss details about your estate plan.