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No one likes the idea of having to contest a will. It’s a lengthy, complicated undertaking, but sometimes it is the only way to see justice served and to preserve the intentions and wishes of a recently departed loved one.
Be prepared for an uphill battle. That said, know that you don’t have to go it alone. A qualified estate attorney has the expertise and know-how to advise you on the merits of your case and guide you through the entire process. They will be with you every step of the way in your quest to see that the wishes of the recently deceased are followed with a sense of fairness and justice.
In a perfect world, one should be able to take something such as a will and have faith in its validity at face value. Unfortunately, there are several red flags you should be on the lookout for when reviewing the will of a recently-deceased loved one. For instance…
There can be other reasons why you might suspect fraud in the execution of a loved one’s will. These are but some possible clues. Consult with a qualified attorney if you wish to discuss the merits of your suspicions.
Should your lawyer agree that there are credible grounds to suspect a will is fraudulent, they will file a challenge to the court on your behalf. They will obtain a copy of the will from the probate court and a list of assets from the will’s executor along with any notes made regarding significant changes recently made.
Be prepared to have to give testimony regarding your suspicions and provide ample evidence to support your claim. Try to get your hands on any documentation about the deceased’s state of mind, finances, and health during the time of the will’s last writing.
An expert probate attorney will be able to provide you with a list of requirements for presenting your case. They will assist you with obtaining or subpoenaing documents as well as arranging testimony from relevant witnesses such as accountants and medical professionals.
A judge will then determine whether or not the will was fraudulent and, therefore, enforceable. This will be based on all of the evidence provided by you and your attorneys, as well as those for the estate. From there, the probate court will advise all parties on how to proceed with the estate and its administration.
Not every contested will has to go to court. The process of challenging a will can be both exhaustive and expensive. Feelings and emotions are raw. A lot of tension can build during the process of contesting a will.
Many, instead, opt for mediation in which the two parties attempt to resolve any issues with the will without having to take it in front of a judge. Your attorney will be able to help you decide whether or not this is the best option for you.
Not necessarily. On occasions in which fraud is not discovered until after probate has closed, it can be re-opened. In that case, a plaintiff could sue to claim fraud or undue influence.
There is also a process known as “Tortious interference with an expectancy of an inheritance or gift,” which has different standards than traditional will contests, including a longer statute of limitations and different expectations regarding evidence. Your estate attorney will be able to give you more information on this option should it be relevant.
Claiming that a will is, in whole or in part, fraudulent is a serious business. Fortunately, you don’t have to navigate these waters by yourself. An experienced attorney can show you the way and be there to help when the waters get rough. Don’t wait too long before making your case. Consult with an attorney as soon as you suspect something is amiss. The sooner questions are resolved, the faster the healing can happen.