What are the grounds to contest a Will?

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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What are the grounds to contest a Will?

My aunt passed away last month; about10 years prior to her death she suffered a massive stroke due to drug usage. She got clean after but the stroke did major damage impacting her ability to walk and function, she was also diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia. After her stroke a fellow drug user stayed with her for a period of a year, she paid him 20k for a kitchen remodel and loaned him another 23k which he never returned. The two never spoke again. For the last 7 years my aunt has told every family and friend that her home and all belongings will be left to my family. We were taking the home to probate when we discovered that the man whom lived with her following her stroke had taken her to an attorney and made a Will name him the executor. Do you feel I have grounds to contest the Will? She absolutely did not want him to have her house, in fact she told me on many occasions that she never signed anything with him to her knowledge. We should have done a Will together but her death was sudden at the age of 56.

Asked on January 25, 2018 under Estate Planning, California


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

Forget out her oral (that is, unwritten) expressions of her intentions (or even any non-will written expressions, like emails or texts): those have no legal effect whatsoever.
IF you can show one of the following, you may be able to successfully challenge the will--but bear in mind you will need evidence (such as medical evidence; e.g. testimony from doctors who treated her) to make the case: 
1) She was not mentally competent when she made the  will;
2) She was coerced or forced to make it by illegal threats (e.g. of violence);
3)  There as trickery or fraud involved in the signing--for example, they showed her will #1, but then slipped her different will #2 when it was time to sign;
4) At the time she made the will, she was so dependent on the person benefiting from the will (e.g. she was bedriden or housebound, and he took care of her and/or was her link to the outside world) that she could not resist him and he dominated her ("undue influence") into making the will.
Or if you can show a defect in the will's execution--not signed in front of witnesses, for example--you could challenge it on technical grounds.
Again, though, the fact that she is did someting you find reprehensible or inexplicable or out of character or against expectations doesn't matter; you need to *prove* a defect in how or why the will was signed.

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