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How people can contest a will

Are you worried that someone might contest your will?

It's a common issue. Family dynamics can sometimes give rise to a lot of strife -- and that can boil over in the midst of grief. Other times, people intentionally leave a potential heir out of their will and just know that person is going to be unhappy about it.

Before you worry about whether or not your heirs will actually contest your will -- let alone succeed at if they do -- there are few things you should know.

It isn't easy or inexpensive to contest a will

Many people think about contesting a will. Far fewer actually go through with it. The simple reason for that is that the cost to contest a will can be high -- and it's the sort of legal fee that usually has to be paid in advance. Most people don't have the money to mount that kind of legal assault. Even fewer have enough to gain to make it worth the fight. The estate usually needs to be substantial in order to make it worth the effort and cost.

There are only four basic reasons that a will can be contested

In order to successfully contest your will, someone would have to allege (and then prove) one of the following things:

  • The will is fraudulent. That's precisely why wills require witnesses. The witnesses can be called in court to testify that you signed it and knew exactly what you were signing.
  • You weren't mentally capable of signing a will because you lacked any understanding of your assets, who your natural heirs were and what the will meant. In many states, even a dementia patient can still sign a will unless he or she has been declared incapacitated by a doctor.
  • You were unduly influenced by someone. This means that someone essentially pressured you into naming him or her your heir. That occasionally happens when one heir gains physical control of an elderly person and isolates him or her from others.
  • The will isn't valid under the laws of the state in which it was signed. Having an experienced attorney handle the estate planning will usually defeat this issue.

If you feel reasonably secure that none of those issues apply to your will, you probably don't need to worry that anyone will challenge it.

Source: The Balance, "What Are the Grounds for Contesting a Will?," Julie Garber, accessed April 06, 2018

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