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Probate and Estate Litigation Blog

What are the reasons for contesting a will?

Those Minnesota residents who either have been through a probate dispute with other family members or who have followed this blog regularly may be wont to think that it is a common occurrence for a disgruntled family member or friend to challenge a deceased person's will.

In fact, a will contest is a relatively rare thing since they can be so hard to prove. While each state has its own slightly different laws there are, in general, four narrow grounds under which a person could successful undermine a will that appears to be valid.

One of these reasons is that the person signing the will did not follow the law's provisions in doing so. Unlike other documents, wills must be signed according to strict requirements, often in the presence of one or more witnesses. Although this may seem like a technicality, probate judges take these legal requirements very seriously.

Assuming the will was properly executed, however, challenging that will may become all the more difficult. In order to do so, a person contesting the will must prove fraud, undue influence or lack of capacity. Fraud, or procuring the signing of a will by deceit, may be difficult to prove simply because the star witness, obviously, has already died, making it difficult to figure out whether the person signing the will was actually tricked or simply had some second thoughts about his or her estate plan.

The other two grounds could also be difficult to prove. While many people, particularly those who are elderly, may be pressured by their loved ones into writing their wills in a certain manner, mere pressure, even if it is strong, is not enough to show "undue influence." In a similar vein, a person does not lack the mental capacity to sign a will simply because he or she has some trouble remembering names and dates.

In other words, there is a strong presumption that a properly signed will is valid. However, there are those cases in which a person really should contest a will because there is strong evidence of trickery or shady behavior. On the other hand, while it may be difficult to win, it is not difficult to file a time-consuming and costly will contest such that a vigorous defense may be necessary.

Source: FindLaw.com, "Reasons to challenge a will," accessed on Aug. 5, 2014

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