Under what circumstances can a Will be contested?

I am the custodian of my parents’ Will. My father passed and now my mother just passed. In the time between the 2 deaths, my sister decided she was the one to take over. I do not know if she made my mother change custodianship but she will not speak or share any information with me. Can I contest the Will if she did?

Asked on March 7, 2014 under Estate Planning, New York

Answers:

FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

A will contest, in the law of property, is a formal objection raised against the validity of a will, based on the contention that the will does not reflect the actual intent of the testator (the party who made the will). Will contests generally focus on the assertion that the testator lacked testamentary capacity, was operating under an insane delusion, or was subject to undue influence or fraud. A will may be challenged in its entirety, or only in part.

In many states, a legal presumption of undue influence arises when there is a finding of a confidential (or fiduciary) relationship, the active procurement of the will by the beneficiary and a substantial benefit to that beneficiary. For example, where a testator leaves property to the attorney who drew up the will. However, this is dependent on the circumstances of such a relationship and the burden is initially on the person contesting to show undue influence. As it is required for invalidation of a will, undue influence must amount to "over-persuasion, duress, force, coercion, or artful or fraudulent contrivances to such a degree that there is destruction of the free agency and will power of the one making the will. Mere affection, kindness or attachment of one person for another may not of itself constitute undue influence.” Heasley v. Evans, 104 So. 2d 854, 857 (Fla. 2d DCA 1958)

A will may include an in terrorem clause, with language along the lines of "any person who contests this will shall forfeit his legacy", which operates to disinherit any person who challenges the validity of the will. However, since this clause is within the will itself, a successful challenge to the will renders the clause meaningless. Many states consider such clauses void as a matter of public policy.

Answer: I suggest that you conult with a Wills and trust attorney in your locality. One can be found on attorneypages.com.


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