After the death of a loved one, emotions can run high. When you add in the expectations people may have for an inheritance, things can become quickly heated. You discover the decedent changed his will a few days prior to death. The new will conflicts with what the decedent told you. Due to the suspiciousness of the new will, you decide to contest it. But, to bring a successful court challenge, you must overcome several substantial hurdles.
How to Challenge the Legal Validity of a Will
If you believe the new will is invalid, you must file an action to challenge its validity in court. The laws of Minnesota only provide for the challenging of the legal validity of a will under a limited set of circumstances. Furthermore, there are only a select group of people who have the right to challenge a will.
Who May Challenge a Will
You will need to first show the court that you have the right to challenge the will and that you are filing the lawsuit in the correct county.
First, you will need to show the court you have “standing” to challenge the will. You have standing if the will names you OR if you are an heir of the estate. An heir is someone who would inherit even in the absence of a will. For instance, your widowed father dies, and you learn of a new will signed two days before your father died. The new will leaves everything to your brother, which you find suspicious. You are an heir because, without a will, you and your brother would split the estate in half.
When Can You Bring a Challenge
Second, you must also file in a timely manner. If you have standing to contest your father’s will, you must file the lawsuit within one year of his date of the death. If you miss the deadline, a court will most likely reject your action.
Once you meet the two above hurdles, you still need to show the court that you have legal grounds to contest the will. It is not enough to say you are contesting the will simply because you are unhappy with your share of the inheritance. There must be legally recognized, well-supported grounds for the contest. There are only a few reasons you may challenge the validity of the will. I will address each of these below. In short, they come down to 1) improper execution; 2) lack of capacity; 3) undue influence; and 4) fraud.
Invalid Will Execution
Minnesota Probate Code lists specific requirements for will execution. For instance, the will the testator must sign the will in front of two witnesses and a notary, each of whom must also sign the will. If the will does not meet the above requirements, a court may invalidate the will. If you look at your dad’s will and discover no one signed as a witness, you may have good cause to challenge its validity. Another example is if the only witnesses are also the new beneficiaries in the will.
Testator Lacked Testamentary Capacity
Testamentary capacity refers to your father’s ability to fully comprehend the nature and value of the assets in his estate. It also means that he understood how those assets will be distributed under the terms of the new will. A court will declare the will invalid if it determines your father lacked the capacity to understand the above concepts.
The issue then becomes proving your father lacked testamentary capacity. This is the heart of the potential fight in a will contest. You will need evidence in support your claim that he lacked the capacity to sign the new will. You may rely on testimony from those who knew the testator or medical records.
The Testator Was Subjected to Undue Influence
If you believe your brother put a lot of pressure on your father to sign a new will. Perhaps your brother was living with you dad and providing all his care. You believe he forced your father into signing a new will. You may have a claim that the new will is invalid as it was the product of undue influence.
Undue influence goes beyond nagging a person or even threatening a person. It is more than verbal abuse. It is extreme pressure placed on the testator that caused him to follow the wishes of another instead of his own wishes. In cases of undue influence, a court may choose to invalidate the entire will or just the will provision that was the result of the undue influence.
The Will Is Fraudulent
You may file a will challenge claiming fraud or that someone forged the will. For example, you may have a valid challenge if you can prove your brother convinced your dad to sign the will by pretending it was a different document. Of if you can show someone forged your father’s signature on the will.
While these are the valid grounds for challenging a will, they can be incredibly difficult to prove. After all, the testator is, of course, deceased when you file an action to contest the will. So, arguing the will is invalid due to the decedent’s state of mind or mental lucidity can be difficult. You should speak with a qualified Minnesota Probate Litigation attorney to get an assessment of your case.
Minnesota Estate & Trust Litigation Attorney
Do you need to speak with someone who will provide a qualified and honest assessment of your case? Unique Estate Law is here to help. Contact us today.