5 Common Reasons for Contesting a Will
When people begin planning their estate, they’re often surprised to find out that their will is not necessarily the be-all and end-all of their plan. In fact, surviving family members can choose to contest the will and drag other beneficiaries through a costly legal battle that chips away at the decedent’s legacy.
Find out why people go to great lengths to contest a loved one’s will and what it may mean for you. To meet your estate planning goals and make the most of your estate, call Entz Burton & Associates at 800-663-7230.
Will is Not in Line With State Requirements
The will may be contested if it does not have the requirements for the state in which the decedent passed away. The requirements for a valid will in the state of Oklahoma are found in Oklahoma Statute Title 84 Section 55. If a will does not meet a state’s requirements, beneficiaries have full rights to contest it. This is one reason it’s so important to work with an estate planning lawyer.
Decedent Did Not Have the Capacity to Make a Will
Oklahoma requires that a testator be of sound mind. If someone is mentally incapacitated, they cannot legally make a will. Before someone can create a will, they must be fully capable of understanding what they are doing, the consequences of that action, and who it will affect. They should understand the value of their estate, who they are giving their assets to, they should understand who their heirs are and the specific terms of the will they are creating and signing. If someone who was not of a sound mind has a will, heirs may very well choose to contest it and force everyone involved into estate litigation.
Decedent Was a Victim of Undue Influence
One of the main reasons someone must be of sound mind before creating a will is because of the risk of undue influence. An unduly influenced individual is one who is vulnerable to exploitation or suggestion. They may also be reliant on the person who subjected them to undue influence. For example, consider an elderly individual with extensive health needs. They have a family member who lives with them and takes care of them. The family member restricts their access to other family members, provides all of their care needs, is the only person with access to their finances, and is their sole source of social interaction. The caregiver tells the individual that other family members don’t care about them enough to visit, that other family members only care about the individual’s money, and that the caregiver is the only person who actually deserves the individual’s estate. They may even withhold medication, food, or other necessities until the individual signs a will that they approve of. This is a classic example of undue influence.
The Will Could Be Fraudulent or Forged
Fraudulent and forged wills are a significant issue, as many people don’t fully understand the terms and conditions of a will when signing it. A fraudulent will is one that includes provisions or terms that the testator does not know about or doesn’t understand. Someone may misrepresent the terms to them in order to get them to sign. On the other hand, a forged will is one that is signed by someone other than the testator and not at the testator’s direction or request.
There May Be a Newer Will
It’s not uncommon for an individual to create multiple wills as they progress through life. Ideally, they would dispose of older versions of their will whenever they create a new one, but mistakes happen. Old wills get shoved in filing cabinets, tucked away in desk drawers, or put in safe deposit boxes. If a family member finds an old version of a will first, they may assume it’s the only version. If another family member knows that there is a newer will available, they may contest the old will.
Estate planning is a nuanced process, where understanding each aspect is crucial for protecting your legacy. Beyond contesting wills due to non-compliance with state laws, mental incapacity, undue influence, fraud, or the existence of a newer will, there are additional factors and scenarios to consider.
Importance of Clear Communication: Clarity in expressing intentions within a will is paramount. Misunderstandings or ambiguous language can lead to disputes among beneficiaries. An estate planning lawyer can help articulate your wishes clearly, reducing the likelihood of misinterpretation and conflicts.
The Role of Executors and Trustees: Choosing the right executor or trustee is vital. These individuals are responsible for administering your estate and ensuring that your wishes are carried out as intended. Mismanagement by executors or trustees, whether intentional or accidental, can also lead to contests. It’s crucial to select someone who is not only trustworthy but also capable of handling such responsibilities.
Regular Updates to Reflect Life Changes: Life events like marriages, divorces, births, and deaths can significantly impact estate planning. Regularly updating your will to reflect these changes ensures that your estate plan remains aligned with your current circumstances and wishes. Failure to update can lead to outdated instructions that beneficiaries may contest.
The Role of Professional Advice: Professional guidance from estate planning attorneys like Entz Burton & Associates is invaluable. They can offer comprehensive advice, including how to minimize estate taxes, set up trusts, and ensure that your estate is distributed as per your desires. They also stay abreast of legal changes that could affect your estate planning.
Educating Beneficiaries: Informing beneficiaries about your estate planning decisions can prevent misunderstandings and disputes. Open discussions about your intentions can provide clarity and peace of mind for everyone involved.
To protect your estate and ensure that your wishes are respected, it’s essential to consider these aspects. Entz Burton & Associates can guide you through this complex process, providing the expertise and support needed to create a robust and effective estate plan. Contact us at 800-663-7230 to secure your legacy.
Protect Your Will and Your Estate—Call Entz Burton & Associates
You’ve worked hard to build your assets and create an estate you are proud of—don’t let it be lost through heirs in-fighting and contesting your will. We will help you create an estate plan that meets your goals and serves your needs. Call us at 800-633-7230 or send us a message online to get started.
Attorney J. Michael Entz at Entz Burton & Associates is an experience lawyer in estate planning law, business formation and asset protection serving the families in Oklahoma City and Weatherford office.