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3 of the most common reasons people contest estate plans

On Behalf of | May 10, 2024 | Estate Planning

An estate plan is a collection of documents that outlines someone’s plans for the future. They can address what happens after they die and also what might happen if they experience a debilitating personal medical emergency.

Those who draft wills and other estate planning paperwork expect their families to uphold their wishes. Sometimes, doing so requires going to court. Families may experience intense conflict when there are questions about the validity of documents or other concerns with estate planning paperwork. Yet, probate litigation is only an option in a handful of specific scenarios.

When can people potentially contest or challenge estate planning paperwork in probate court?

When there are concerns about testamentary capacity

People need to understand their circumstances and relationships to create effective estate plans. Those dealing with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or relatively severe psychiatric disorders may lack the necessary capacity to establish valid documents. If family members can prove that someone already had issues with compromised capacity when they drafted their documents, that might prompt the courts to set those documents aside.

When they suspect undue influence

An estate plan should include terms set by the testator. Adults have the right to determine what happens to their property after they die without the influence of outside parties. A caregiver, spouse or child who pressures or coerces someone into changing their estate plan may have applied undue influence. Claims of undue influence are among the most common reasons that people contest wills in probate court.

When there are deviations from state law

Probate statutes protect spouses in certain scenarios and also impose requirements on those drafting estate planning documents. People can theoretically challenge a will or other documents by asserting that the paperwork violates certain elements of state law. Whether someone failed to obtain witnesses when drafting a will or left instructions that violate state rules, it could be possible to contest their estate plan based on a failure to conform with state law.

Families also occasionally initiate will contests when they suspect that fraud may have affected the terms of the documents. Those initiating a will contest in probate court have a burden of proof that they must meet. They need evidence supporting the claim that there are technical or legal issues with the estate plan. Learning more about probate proceedings and statutes could help families determine what options they have available. Ultimately, will contests are sometimes necessary to uphold the true intentions of someone who has recently died.