Under most circumstances, it’s difficult to challenge a will. Typically, only people who are named in them or are legal heirs – such as children and spouses – can bring a will contest forward and expect their claim to be given the time of day by the court.
Wills are crucial because they are the guiding documents for how the division of a loved one’s estate and guardianship over their children will be carried out. Because there’s so much at stake, however, there’s room for scrutiny when things seem even just a little bit “off” about the circumstances under which a will was created or even the document itself.
Some may feel that contesting a will is something that greedy individuals do when they want a greater share of someone’s estate. While this kind of scenario has certainly played out before, there are much more legitimate reasons why a will would – and should – be contested.
Interestingly enough, these reasons are also based on greed. However, it is typically on the part of someone who manipulated or tricked the now-deceased relative into signing a will they would have never otherwise agreed to.
Let’s take a look at some common scenarios in which contesting a will may become necessary.
The Will’s Creator Lacked Testamentary Capacity
In order for a will to be created or signed, an individual must have testamentary capacity to do so. This means that they must be at least 18 years old and have the mental capacity to fully understand what they are doing and the implications of doing so.
This means that the testator must have a solid grasp of the following in order for a will to be valid:
- Who the beneficiaries of their will are
- The value and extent of their estate
- What it means to create a will
- How all of these factors will combine when it comes time to distribute their estate
A will contest can arise when there is a disagreement as to whether or not the deceased was suffering from dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, or another degenerative mental condition when creating the will. Even if someone was in an early stage of decline, a will created during or at any time following this period can be reasonably challenged. It must be proven the testator lacked the capacity required to create a legally valid will.
Suspicions of Fraud, Forgery & Undue Influence
Another likely reason to challenge a will is when anyone believes it was procured by fraud, forgery, and undue influence. At the core of all three of these factors is someone manipulating the will-maker into creating a will they would otherwise never have conceived of doing.
The end-goal of unduly influencing a testator is almost always for the abuser to gain some significant stake in the will-maker’s estate. This individual can be anyone involved in the will-maker’s life, be it a relative, friend, neighbor, or caretaker. The manipulation itself can involve physical violence, intimidation, emotional abuse, trickery, and even efforts to isolate the will-maker from their other relatives and loved ones.
It may seem like someone is getting a significantly lopsided share of the deceased’s estate – especially if they are not a family member or recently came into the deceased’s life. Such a situation may be an indication that fraud, forgery, or undue influence could have factored into the will’s creation.
Another Will Exists
It may become necessary to contest a will when a more recent version comes to light. This is because the court typically follows the instructions of the newer document. Under most circumstances, an old will is destroyed or attempts are explicitly made to invalidate it when a newer one is created. This, of course, may not have happened if either will was lost and rediscovered during the probate process.
It can also be a problem if one or both of the wills lacks a date of creation. When it’s unclear which will is the most recent version, it may take litigation to investigate this issue and have the court decide what should be the case.
Issues with Witnesses and Signing
Under Oklahoma law, two adult witnesses of sound mind must sign the will in the presence of the will-maker when a will is formed as a typed hard copy. If a will is drafted in the will-maker’s handwriting, then witnesses are not needed as long as these “holographic” wills are also signed and dated in the same handwriting. In both cases, the will must also be signed by the testator.
The Provisions of the Will Do Not Follow State Law
A will-maker must take pains to properly create the document’s provisions to follow all legal formalities. This means the will must explicitly state that the will-maker is the person who created it. The will must also include at least one substantive clause (such as leaving property to someone, or directing guardianship of children) and appoint an executor to administer the estate.
Absent of these three crucial components – and perhaps others – a will can be contested and thrown out. Such a will fundamentally does not conform to the state’s laws for what it must have included to be valid.
Do You Need to Contest a Will?
If you are in a position where you feel it’s necessary to contest a loved one’s will, Bundren Law Firm, P.C. can help. We assist clients in probate matters such as this and can provide you with the legal guidance, support, and services you need. We can help you ensure an inappropriately created will isn’t recognized by the court.
Rest assured that we have the knowledge, skill, and experience it takes to meet your needs and help you achieve your goals or the best possible outcome.
If you need help, get in touch with our attorney at Bundren Law Firm, P.C. today by calling (918) 992-3300 or by filling out our online contact form.