Useful information to help guide
your probate process

What Sorts of Will Disputes or Contests Can Come Up?

When someone passes away, they tend to leave behind documentation and paperwork offering guidance on how to handle their personal, financial, and legal affairs. One of the most important such documents is a last will and testament.

This is considered to be such a vital legal document, in fact, that destroying or knowingly withholding a will from the public record for more than 30 days is a felony in Illinois.

Once a deceased person’s last will and testament is filed with the local county clerk, the probate process begins in earnest. This is the legal process by which the assets of a deceased person are distributed, in accordance with the decedent’s stated wishes and in line with all state and local laws.

Even under the best of circumstances, probate can be a lengthy and, oftentimes, frustrating process. While there are steps you can take ahead of time to help make probate smoother for your loved ones – including ensuring that certain assets bypass the probate process altogether – there are also certain factors that can drag out the probate process even longer, making it an even more trying time for those you leave behind.

When there is room in an estate plan for disputes, claims, and contests to crop up, for instance, there is a chance that probate will be an even longer endurance test for your loved ones – which could prove costly, and keep your beneficiaries from seeing the full extent of their disbursements for some time.

While infighting among relatives and inheritors is one thing, a dispute spilling over into court is something else entirely. A little bit of sibling rivalry is, in some cases, expected when a parent or close relative passes away; a prolonged legal battle is something else.

Should a court battle erupt over the contents or administration of a will, it could slow the probate process down to a halt. So what could count as a valid dispute of a will in the eyes of the law? There are a few things to bear in mind…

Who Can Challenge a Will?

Not just anyone can contest a will. While laws vary from state to state, probate laws, broadly speaking, indicate that only interested persons who have standing can challenge a will.

Interested persons might include spouses, heirs, children, or other parties who might have a valid right to property under state laws, or who can reasonably file a claim against the administration of the will. Standing, on the other hand, narrows this category a little bit; to have standing, an individual should be able to show that they were named on the will, that they would stand to benefit or lose material assets if the will were deemed invalid, or if they would qualify as an heir if the decedent had passed without a will (i.e., intestate).

On What Grounds Can a Will Be Contested?

Just as an individual or party must fit into a fairly narrow set of requirements in order to challenge a will, they must also establish a claim on a solid legal ground, such as:

  • Undue influence (i.e., that the deceased was pressured to change the will)
  • Lack of mental capacity (the decedent was not mentally capable of reasonably creating a valid will)
  • Improper execution of the will (if there was an issue with the preparation or execution of the will according to state law, such as an issue with the signing or the witnessing of the will, or a question about confusing or unclear language in certain provisions)
  • Fraud or forgery (if the decedent was tricked into signing a will)

While familial disputes aren’t uncommon over the course of the probate process, it is a little rarer to see issues spill into court. It can be costly and time-intensive to challenge a will, and many, many attempts to do so tend to prove ineffective.

Still, understanding what goes into a valid will and bringing on a professional to assist you could help spare your family from squabbles – and costly delays – down the line.

Have any questions or concerns about matters of wills, trusts, probate, or any other facet of estate planning and administration? Don’t hesitate to drop us a line to get the conversation started.

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