In the majority of situations involving wills and probate court, the will goes unchallenged and the deceased’s wishes are carried out as stated in the will. However, there are the rare situations in which someone involved in the proceedings thinks they have grounds to believe that the will is not an entirely valid document.
In these situations, an individual may be able to challenge the validity of the will. The circumstances that allow for this particular type of estate litigation are relatively few in number and the ones that do exist are strictly regulated. That being said, sometimes it can and should be done. For those who are considering engaging in this process, the state of New York has defined when a will can be legitimately contested and who can legitimately contest it.
Who can contest a will?
In the state of New York, a will can only be contested by individuals who are legal adults and who will financially gain from the will. This is known as having a pecuniary interest. As such, the only individuals eligible for legitimate contention are,
· Beneficiaries – Individuals who would inherit funds from the current will, but less than they would under previous wills or inheritance situations.
· Distributees – Individuals who are heirs to the estate in question. They are legally entitled to a share of the estate in the event of the death of the owner of the estate.
Reasons for contesting a will
· Mental capacity – For a will to be considered legally valid, the person writing the will must be of sound mind. If they were not of sound mind when they wrote the will, it can be considered invalid. This can be difficult to prove after the will has been written, but the basic aspects are that the individual understood that they were writing a will, what it meant, what property is involved in the will and how they would distribute the property.
· Fraud/Undue influence - If the writer of a will was provided with false information or was very heavily influenced by another person while writing the will and wrote the will based on the information they were given, it may be considered invalid.
· Duress – A will may be considered invalid if it was written under the influence of a threat by someone else.
· Legal process – If a will was drafted without following the express legal process and fulfilling exact legal requirements, it is considered invalid and cannot be acted upon.
Although will contests are somewhat rare, they do happen. If you do believe you have grounds for taking legal action to challenge the validity of a will, it is highly suggested that you obtain the services of an experienced and knowledgeable legal professional. They will be able to provide expertise and guidance that may make all of the difference in your case.