Is The Will Valid?
When most people decide to create a Last Will and Testament, they intend that the document will lay out their final wishes and desires for the disposition of the estate at the time of their death. However, in some cases, the creation of that Last Will can sometimes create a source of conflict for the family and/or beneficiaries of the Decedent, resulting in a Will contest that seeks to contest the validity of someone’s Will. Numerous issues sound an action to contest the validity of a Will, but at its core, a Will can generally be contested on two grounds – that the Decedent lacked capacity at the time that the Will was executed, or that the Decedent was unduly influenced to sign a Will that they did not intend to sign.
Contesting Will Provisions
When someone challenges the validity of a Will, the challenges typically arise in one of the following manners:
- Lack of Capacity: In some cases, parties to the Will might challenge the Will based on the allegation that the Decedent lacked the proper capacity to create a Will at the time that the Will was executed. In order for a Will to be valid, the person who signed the Will must have sufficiently understood the nature and extent of his estate at the time that he created the Will, and he must have understood who his family members were at that time. If he had sufficient understanding of both of these elements, then he has sufficient capacity to sign a Will. Because proper capacity is a necessary requirement to recognizing a Will as valid, a contest that successfully shows that the Decedent did not have proper capacity would result in the Will not being valid. Frequently, proving that someone lacked capacity to execute a Will is going to revolve around the testimony of doctors, a review of medical records around the time that the Will was created, and the testimony of people who interacted with them around the time of the signing of the Will. In instances where an attorney helped prepare a Will, the attorney is frequently asked to testify about the circumstances surrounding the execution of the Will.
- Undue Influence: In addition to having proper capacity to execute a Will, a person must also execute his or her Will without any undue influence from someone else. Many challenges to the validity of a Will involve claims that the Decedent signed the Will as a result of someone else’s undue influence over them at the time of the signing of the Will. Someone’s influence will invalidate the Decedent’s Will if the Court determines that the influence was so strong that it resulted in the Decedent signing a Will that reflected desires that differed from his own desires. At trial in these types of cases, the Court usually hears testimony from people who interacted with the Decedent around the time that the Will was signed, and the Court might review documents that expressed intentions different from those expressed in the alleged Will. If the Decedent is found to have been unduly influenced into signing a Will that did not express his intentions, then the Will cannot be valid.
- Revocation of the Will: A third, but much less common instance when someone might contest the validity of a Will is an allegation that the Will was revoked. In general, one of the requirements to a valid Will is that the Will must not have been revoked prior to the death of the person who signed the Will. Most often, revocation happens when someone signs a new Will at a later date. So, a challenge to a Will based on revocation would likely involve an allegation that a later document was filed. However, in cases where only a copy of a Will can be located but the original is lost, the law presumes that the Will was revoked if the original cannot be located. In those cases, someone might claim that the Will was revoked simply because the original cannot be located, but the law provides an opportunity to use the copy if certain elements can be established to overcome the presumption that it was revoked.