Though not as often as movies and soap operas would have us believe, estate planning lawyers do sometimes deal with family members who contest their loved one’s will.
The case of a contested will normally involves a person who feels the deceased did not properly bequeath property in their will or trust. Or, in the case of minor children, someone may feel they are better suited as legal guardian than the person who is currently named. An estate planning lawyer is usually called in to help refute any claims that are made. Many times, it comes down to making sure the will and trust was set up properly in the first place.
So, what issues can open the door to someone contesting a will, legally? There are several cases, for example:
- A family member feels the decedent was not in their right mind and didn’t fully understand the choices they were making;
- There are mistakes in the will;
- The will wasn’t properly executed, meaning it had no witnesses, etc.;
- Or, there exists the possibility of coercion.
I will say that contesting a will is NOT an easy thing to do. You can’t just object to the terms of a person’s will because you don’t like them. Wills and trusts lawyers often go to great lengths when drafting their clients’ documents to protect them from time-consuming and costly objections from unhappy family members. And, for those who anticipate trouble in the first place, the lawyer can help the client include a no-contest clause in his or her documents. This clause clearly states anyone who contests the will forfeits their inheritance.
Of course even with these measures in place, there is no 100% guarantee that family members won’t contest, but it does offer incentive not to start trouble. A good estate planning lawyer can help determine the best course of action for you.
Again, while there may be some legal reasons to contest a will, “I just don’t like it,” is not one of them. Individuals are not allowed to engage legal procedures just because they aren’t happy with distribution of property. Plus they have to be in direct financial interest to contest at all, which means, for example, that a son-in-law cannot contest a will because he feels his wife was treated unfairly.
The best option to avoid a legal will contest altogether is to work with an experienced will and trust lawyer to set things up properly from the start. He or she will help ensure your plan is comprehensive, unambiguous, protects you from interference from unhappy family members and complies with applicable laws.