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Why beneficiaries sometimes decide to contest a will

On Behalf of | Jun 14, 2024 | probate litigation |

Most beneficiaries feel grateful for the fact that they receive an inheritance. A testator allocating a portion of their estate for the benefit of another person is a generous act. Family members and close friends of a testator often view the inheritance that they receive as a form of comfort and solace after the tragedy they experience when someone dies.

Unfortunately, sometimes those expecting to inherit from an estate receive surprise disappointments. A review of the estate planning documents may indicate that the testator did not leave them anything or reduced what they had allocated for certain beneficiaries. The shock and disappointment that people sometimes feel may lead to legal action.

People can occasionally contest or challenge a will by initiating a lawsuit in probate court. What are some of the scenarios in which it will contest might be a reasonable option?

When there are issues with the documents

There are several kinds of document issues that might lead to will contests. Sometimes, the documents might not adhere to state law. Someone may not have had the appropriate witness signatures required on their documents or may have included terms that technically violate probate statutes. Family members could contest documents due to technical issues or violations of probate statutes.

When there are issues with the plan itself

Many will contests focus not on technical issues with the documents but rather concerns about their contents. Perhaps someone limited inheritances for multiple beneficiaries in favor of someone who served as their caregiver in their last month of life. Family members may worry that undue influence by that caregiver may have affected the final estate plan.

Perhaps the documents do not seem to contain the terms that a testator talked about throughout much of their later life. Instead, they seem to have made numerous surprising changes when their health was at its worst. In some cases, families could raise questions about someone’s testamentary capacity and the possibility that they may not have understood the terms they included in their documents.

Such claims might lead to the courts setting aside an estate plan, possibly while referring to older estate planning documents to guide asset distribution. Simple dissatisfaction with an inheritance is rarely an adequate reason to contest a will. Family members usually need a reasonable suspicion of issues with the documents or their creation if they want to convince the courts to set aside estate planning paperwork.

Learning more about will contests can help people to make informed decisions about their rights. The decision to take legal action might ultimately help uphold a decedent’s true legacy wishes that their declining health or the inappropriate interventions of others have undermined.