One of my axioms, “money changes people” continues to be validated over and over again with the rise of estate litigation. Not that injustice shouldn’t be corrected or wrong-doers unpunished; but oft-times will contests are simply a matter of sour grapes.
Contesting a will it is usually a civil court matter; meaning that the plaintiff (the one bringing a complaint) must file suit against the executor of the will in Chancery Court. Unfortunately we’re also seeing a rise in criminal cases where elder abuse has been the issue, but that’s another matter entirely. In an article for AARP.org, Nancy Mann Jackson writes that when contesting a will, “the chances of success are slim.” She outlines four legal challenges that may provide an opportunity for successfully contesting a will.
- Undue influence. It’s difficult to prove, but if the deceased person was pressured extensively by someone to change the will, you have a case.
- Fraud. Also difficult to prove, but if the will’s author was tricked into signing a will — maybe he or she was told it was a deed or some other legal document — the will is invalid.
- Improper execution. If the will was not prepared or executed properly under the laws of the state in which it was created, it could be thrown out in court.
- Lack of capacity. If the will maker was not mentally capable of thinking out the issues involved in a will at the time it was created, the will could be invalid.
Even if you have a valid complaint, you should weigh the costs versus the potential gains. Potential financial costs include your own legal fees, the executor’s legal fees if you lose your challenge, and the possible loss of whatever share of the estate you were entitled to receive if the will included a “no-contest provision” and you lose your challenge. There are relationship costs as well because contests often pit sibling against sibling or parent against child. You may prevail in court, but at the expense of a severed relationship. So before you decide to go to battle for what should have been rightfully yours, ask yourself, is it really worth it?