Deaths and wills have a way of really tearing families apart — especially if there were some long-brewing disputes among members — more than one person involved may wish to contest a will over issues both great and small.
Unfortunately, it isn’t always that easy. If you’re going to contest someone’s will, you need the following just to start:
- Time to engage in an often lengthy and complex court process
- The money to afford the legal fees necessary to bring the case
- A legally valid reason that will entitle you to contest the case
- Evidence that supports the legally valid reason allowing you to sue
These are no small considerations. Unlike personal injury lawsuits, attorneys who can help you contest a will don’t usually work on a contingency fee basis — they expect to be paid for their work either in advance or as you go.
Essentially, no one but you can decide if taking someone to court over a relative’s will is worth it or not in terms of the investment you have to make financially and emotionally. If you’re angry that your brother got your father’s vintage Harley, for example, when you were the one who always went riding with Dad, contesting the will is probably going to cost more than the Harley is physically worth — but it might be worth it to you emotionally.
However, you also have to contend with the fact that there are only a few reasons that will allow you to challenge a will in court (and being unhappy with its terms isn’t one of them):
- The will somehow violates state laws (for example, it lacks enough witnesses).
- The deceased lacked the mental ability to understand what he or she was signing (for example, due to heavy pain medication).
- Someone exerted “undue influence” by bullying or lying to the deceased to get him or her to sign the will. “Undue influence” is another way of saying the deceased lacked true freedom of choice.
- Someone obtained the will by fraud. For example, the deceased thought the document was living will, not a final will.
- The will itself is a fake. For example, someone changed the date on an old will or forged the deceased’s signature altogether.
If you do decide that you need to contest a will, it’s important to retain an attorney with experience in this area.
Source: the balance, “What Are the Grounds for Contesting a Will?” Julie Garber, Oct. 19, 2017