While a Last Will and Testament garners a great deal of respect from friends and loved ones, sometimes they do not accurately reflect that deceased’s wishes. When people are inadvertently left out or the document has stipulations that run contrary to the testator’s known desires, something may be amiss – you may find cause to contest a will.
If you recognize red flags, it’s important to contact an experienced lawyer who can walk you through potential legal causes of action to remedy the issue. At the end of the day, the person’s wishes should be carried out in a meaningful fashion.
Who Can Challenge A Will?
It’s important to understand that not everyone can contest a will. Despite your feelings that the disposition of assets would be better served in a different way, only what the court calls “interested persons” have the standing to bring a challenge. This can be particularly frustrating when a Last Will and Testament may not have been updated to reflect the person’s final wishes. Those in a position to contest a will include the following.
- Beneficiaries: By virtue of being named in the legal document, these people and entities have standing. They may include immediate and distant family members, friends, religious institutions, non-profits and others. Some wills even name beloved pets.
- Heirs: When a person dies without making a will, a wide range of relatives gain standing and can hire an attorney to argue on their behalf. The courts generally distribute assets to next of kin and others in descending order. When an heir has been left out of a will, you may also challenge based on an error by omission.
Another area that heirs would be wise to challenge are “in terrorem” or “no contest” clauses. These often amount to all-or-nothing stipulations in will disagreements. Fortunately, Florida probate courts generally do not recognize such stipulations as lawful. If you discover such as clause, it may be in your best interest to contact an experienced Florida attorney.
What Are The Legal Grounds For Contesting A Will?
It’s not uncommon for beneficiaries and others to believe that a will does not accurately reflect the wishes of the deceased. In some cases, the person had not updated the document in many years. Other times, the will may have significant flaws that raise a legal eyebrow. These may include:
- Testamentary Capacity: In simple terms, this legal test considers whether or not the person was of “sound mind” when they made the will. An attorney would challenge the validity of whether they understood what they were doing and the impact. Questions might include: Did they understand the actual values of their wealth? Did they recognize the impact of excluding certain people? Did they suffer any debilitating mental disorder? The core issue boils down to the person understanding and knowingly executing the document.
- Invalid Execution: The validity of a will may turn on the person having legitimate witnesses at the signing. Many wills are notarized to overcome such objections. The courts generally presume validity and the burden falls on the contester to prove otherwise.
- Undue Influence: While this idea is often bandied about in TV courtroom dramas, it definitely happens in real life. When our valued elders become frail and dependent on others for care, bad actors can influence their decisions. While this ranks among the more common problems, there are a wide range of situations in which vulnerable people are manipulated into signing over assets.
- Fake Wills: Fraudulent and forged wills are orchestrated in a number of ways. The straightforward fashion involves a forged signature. But in more subtle cases, one party may manipulate the person into taking an action they might not have otherwise. This might include making false claims in an effort to have someone removed from the will, thus gaining a greater portion of wealth.
- Ambiguous Wills: Whether due to clerical error or misinterpreting the person’s intentions when crafting the will, the final document simply misses the mark. Rectifying this may require clarification of ambiguous language or a professional negligence cause of action.
How Can A Florida Last Will And Testament Attorney Help?
Contesting a will because you have been left out or believe the document lacks validity often requires a skilled attorney’s scrutiny. It can be difficult for people emotionally invested to see the difference between legal and personal dilemmas. An experienced attorney can walk you through the elements of a will and explore your concerns. If they are legally actionable, the will can be contested in probate court.
In many cases, settlement agreements can be reached with other parties and submitted to the court for approval. In others, a hearing or trial may be necessary to get you the benefit you or a loved one deserve. Contact the experienced legal team at the France Law Firm for a consultation.