For many people who have had relatives pass away with either complex wills, or no will at all, don't like the sound of the word "probate." They may associate it as a state of deadlock that puts their ability to inherit from their loved ones on hold while they wrestle with the court system. When proper estate plans are made by a person of sound mind, and a valid will and/or living trust is left behind, the probate process actually goes fairly smoothly most of the time. But there are instances when things just don't seem to be right, and in these cases challenging a will may be the right course of action, even if it proves to be inconvenient for others. Here are some situations where contesting may be appropriate.
When a Will is Very Old
In most cases, the will that is considered valid is usually the one that was most recently drafted. If it has been a long time since the will was updated or revised to include all potential heirs, contesting might be appropriate because there could be a more recent copy of the will, or there may be potential heirs that were born after the last will that the deceased would have reasonably wanted to include in the will.
When a Person Who Had a High Level of Influence of the Person's End Of Life Inherits A Lot
In order for a will to be valid, the writer needs to be of sound mind and not be subject to undue influence by someone that they were vulnerable towards near the end of their life. Indications to give a large portion of their estate to that person might be a sign of true gratitude, or it could mean that they were manipulated.
When There are Complicated Provisions in the Will
State laws vary as to how many conditions a person can make when they are designating who gets what assets and how they are to use them. If there are a lot of conditions that apply, such as a teen or young adult inheriting a trust at a certain age based on their college GPA or graduation, they might have cause to dispute those terms. Also a lot of provisions, or naming a lot of unusual heirs, such as unofficial charitable causes, may be a sign that the latest version of their will was not drafted when they were completely competent.
When It Seems That Someone Was Left Out By Mistake
There is a certain hierarchy of heirs and inheritances that is usually based on how nearly related a person is to the deceased. If someone dies without a will, that hierarchy is followed in order to determine who gets what. It is usually assumed that spouses will inherit after someone dies, and there are protections to make sure they get their share of an estate. Children and grandchildren are not protected in the same way, but if they are to inherit there are protections to see that they aren't accidently overlooked. For example, if a will says "I leave $5000 to each of my ten grandchildren," but goes on to list nine names, the tenth grandchild may assert a claim to the same inheritance as their siblings or cousins.
In most cases, contesting a will isn't going to win you any popularity contests in your family, but if something doesn't seem correct, a seasoned probate lawyer can help you determine whether or not raising those questions is the right move for you.