Dealing with the passing of a loved one is difficult enough, and it can be made even tougher upon discovering that a will that you expected to be a part of leaves you out. Fortunately, there are ways to successfully contest a will provided you can prove that you were meant to be included. Here, Catanese & Wells discusses what you can do if you are left out of a will.
Be Honest About Your Chances in a Will Contest
Before you call up an estate lawyer, you will want to think about how you would like to proceed. This involves wrestling with hard truths such as that you may not have any legal standing to contest the will if you were not mentioned in its previous iterations. If you recall having conversations with the deceased regarding how inheritance, estimate the dollar value. If this amount is not enough to cover the costs of an estate lawyer, then it may not be worth it for you to pursue a will contest. This is an important step for deciding how to proceed because you do not want to owe more than you stand to potentially win.
Know Grounds for Contesting a Will
Your chances of successfully contesting a will and having it overturned increase significantly if you can prove that you have grounds for contesting. For example, if you are not explicitly excluded your parent’s will, courts may presume that you were left out inadvertently. Similarly, if you were born after a will was executed, a probate court may rule that you are entitled to your share of property. Undue influence or duress is grounds or contesting as well, which means that you may be successful if you can prove that they were either psychologically or mentally influenced by someone they thought they could trust or coerced into leaving you out of the will. Finally, you also have grounds for contesting a will if the deceased was not of sound mind at the time of signing.
Get a Copy of the Will
The creator of a will is the individual that has the final say of who will be included. Still, if a person believes that the will has changed for any of the reasons that would threaten its legitimacy, you may be able to find out how and why. To do this, ask the executor of the will for the most current will along with any previous iterations and a list of assets. The reason that you will want these copies is because an executor can compare them and note any significant changes. During the process, you will also be informed of how much time you have to contest the will. You will want an estate lawyer to get the copy to file the contest as soon as you can, since states have different timelines for how long an individual has to begin the process.
Consult an Attorney
If you have a copy of the will and believe you have an ironclad reason to contest it, it is time to consult a lawyer. An estate lawyer is an asset during the early stages of contesting a will because they can inform you on how good the evidence looks and how likely you are to be successful. There are some instances where you can make a claim on an estate even if you do not have the grounds in a traditional sense. For example, you may be able to claim costs if you did unpaid work for the testator.
After getting a lawyer on your side that agrees you have grounds to file a contest, they will help you contest the will. During proceedings, a lawyer will look to invalidate the current will to enforce a previous iteration that lists you as a beneficiary. It is important to remember that your odds of being successful in a will contest are slimmer if you have been left out of several revisions, as it will mean that you must invalidate multiple wills. The burden of proof falls on the filer, so you and your legal team will have to prove why the will is not valid. If you considered this in your previous steps, you should have adequate proof.
If the amount of time and money spent on a will contest is too much of an obstacle for both sides, it may be a good choice to consider mediation instead. During that process, a lawyer can sit both parties down to help come to a conclusion that suits them without the associated costs of battling it out in court.