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Can a validly executed will be declared invalid by the court?

Minnesota law specifies several formalities that must all be satisfied for a will to be deemed validly executed: the will must be written, it must be signed by the person making it or by a person legally authorized to act for that person, and it must be signed by two persons who witnessed the execution of the will. Even if these formalities have been satisfied, persons with an interest in the estate of the decedent often ask whether a will that has been signed and properly witnessed still be declared invalid? The answer is a heavily qualified "yes."

In order to challenge the validity of a will, the person making the challenge must commence litigation in the probate court to determine whether the decedent died "testate" (with a valid will) or "intestate" (without a valid will). Sometimes, the challenge to a will may involve multiple wills, each claimed by one or more interested persons to represent the decedent's true intent concerning the distribution of property.

A successful challenger must meet the burden of establishing by the greater weight of the evidence one or more of the following facts:

  • that the decedent was mentally not competent and did not possess sufficient "testamentary intent,"
  • that a person inheriting some or all of the estate exercised undue influence over the decedent, thereby gaining an unfair advantage over other heirs
  • that a person inheriting some or all of the estate employed duress or fraud to obtain his or her share of the estate
  • that the decedent revoked the will before dying or made some a mistake that would invalidate the will

As may be easily imagined, a lawsuit challenging the validity of a formally executed will can be expensive and emotionally draining. Estate litigation should be started only after consulting a lawyer experienced in probate court litigation to learn the probability of success and to find out whether a successful challenge will have a material impact on the distribution of the estate.

Source: Minnesota Statutes Sec. 524.3-407, Formal Testacy Proceedings; Burdens in Contested Cases, accessed on Feb. 2, 2015

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