It’s always difficult to lose a loved one, particularly a parent, spouse, or child. But the difficulty of the loss can be magnified if one believes that the lost family member left behind a will that should not be honored for some reason.
The decision to challenge, or contest, a loved one’s will, should not be made lightly. The decision to contest the will is very likely to create tension with other family members or heirs. However, if one strongly believes that the will being put forth does not really reflect the decedent’s true intent, or is invalid, there may be no other choice.
Grounds for a Will Contest
Hard as it may be to accept, a will that feels inequitable to an heir may still be perfectly valid. “Fairness” is not a requirement for Connecticut wills. Below are some criteria on which a will may actually be challenged:
Undue Influence: Arguments that the maker of the will (the “testator”) was unduly influenced may be the most common ground for contesting a will. A finding of undue influence requires a testator who is susceptible to overreaching, perhaps due to physical or mental disability. There must also be an opportunity for undue influence to be exerted; evidence that the person accused was inclined to exert undue influence; and a suspicious transaction, such as a will that was changed dramatically shortly before the testator’s death.
Lack of Mental Capacity: A valid will requires that the testator have the mental capacity (“sound mind”) to make one, so a will that is made by a testator with questionable mental capacity is subject to challenge.
Will is unsigned, or is otherwise statutorily invalid: If a will is unsigned it cannot be considered valid, even if the testator dictated it directly to his attorney, who transcribed his wishes. Connecticut wills need not be notarized, but if the testator and the required two witnesses sign before a notary, indicating on an affidavit their identities and that they knew they were signing a will, it may be more difficult to successfully challenge the will.
Standing to Challenge a Will
Even if a testator’s will is written in crayon and leaves the entire estate to a cartoon character, it cannot be challenged by someone who lacks standing to do so. “Standing” is a legal term for someone who is personally affected by the outcome of a legal case. In the case of a will contest, people who would be heirs at law have standing. Heirs at law are the people who would inherit a decedent’s estate if there were no valid will. A disinherited daughter has standing to challenge a will. The testator’s lifelong best friend, to whom he promised before witnesses to leave his Corvette, does not have standing.
How to Begin (or Prevent) a Will Contest
If you believe that a loved one’s will should be challenged, it is important to contact a knowledgeable probate attorney without delay. Similarly, if you are contemplating making a will that you expect some of your heirs to be unhappy about, you should contact an experienced attorney to help fortify your will against challenges. No matter what side of a will contest you find yourself on, you can contact Weatherby & Associates at 888-822-8778 for a knowledgeable and straightforward assessment of your case.