Estate plans reflect someone’s wishes for their legacy and how they hope to provide for their loved ones after they die. The courts generally do their best to uphold the estate plan left behind by someone.
However, there are situations in which people can go to the courts and ask them to throw out, alter or replace the will or other documents. Generally, people will need to bring a challenge against the estate for the courts to consider the validity of the estate planning documents. In what circumstances might you be able to challenge the estate plan of someone who recently died?
You need to have had a relationship with the deceased
A total stranger with no legal or biological ties usually can’t challenge someone else’s estate plan unless they have very compelling reasons. However, family members with a claim to assets in the estate and other people who would reasonably expect to be beneficiaries in someone’s will may have the right to bring a challenge in certain circumstances.
You need a compelling legal reason to bring a challenge
Feeling upset or disappointed with what you receive in a will isn’t adequate reason to challenge it. You need actual grounds that will hold up under scrutiny in court. Typically, challenges to an estate result from one of four common reasons.
The person creating the estate plan may have already experienced cognitive decline and may no longer have had the testamentary capacity to make their own legal decisions. Other people, like their spouse or a caregiver, may have exerted undue influence on the testator to set terms for their own personal benefit. Legal issues, like a lack of a signature or illegal terms in the will can also be grounds.
Finally, fraud, such as tricking someone into signing or falsely signing someone else’s name on a document could be a reason to challenge an estate plan. Provided that you have grounds to bring a challenge and some kind of evidence to validate your concerns, the courts may step in and help remedy the situation.