An introductory primer on Tennessee will contests

Certain things can result in a will being found invalid.

Tennessee law sets out formal requirements that must be followed in the execution of a will. Failure to meet those requirements may result in the will being found invalid by a state court in a will contest proceeding.

Basically, anyone who would stand to inherit from the decedent if the will were found invalid has the right to challenge the will in court. Tennessee law provides that a will contest can be decided by a jury. In a will contest, the executor who is appointed to administer the estate and carry out the will is the person who defends against a challenge to the will's validity.

Grounds upon which to dispute the validity of a Tennessee will include:

  • Improper execution: With the exception of a holographic (handwritten) or nuncupative (oral) will, requirements regarding signing and witnessing at the time of execution must have been met.
  • Lack of testamentary capacity: The maker of the will must have been of sound mind at the time the will was executed, which means he or she understood the meaning of the act of making a will, the nature of his or her property and the family members with legal interest in the estate. If the person was sufficiently lucid when signing the will, he or she may have had sufficient capacity even if under guardianship, suffering from chemical addiction, being incapable of entering a contract, experiencing some mental deterioration from aging or having mental illness, although those factors may be relevant. The testator can even experience delusions so long as they do not influence the making or content of the will. Evidence of competence may be found in testimony of people who observed the testator's behavior, appearance and conversations on that day and at other times.
  • Undue influence: A will is invalid on this basis if a person in a confidential relationship (one of honesty and faith) to the testator forcefully, coercively or improperly influenced the maker at a level where the maker loses free will and includes provision in the will to benefit the other person.
  • Fraud: If the testator based his or her directions in the will on something that had been misrepresented or was deceitful, the will is invalid.
  • Subsequent will: A will is unenforceable if a more recent one revokes it.

Will contests in Tennessee are particularly complicated procedurally, including certain deadline and bonding requirements. It is wise for anyone considering a challenge to a will or for an executor defending such a contest to seek legal counsel as early as possible for advice, counsel, advocacy and representation.

Attorney Mary L. LaGrone of Nashville represents people on both sides of will contests, in estate planning and administration and in other probate matters.