How do I Contest a Will?

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KS and MO Attorney Kyle E Krull

Written by Kyle Krull

Attorney & Counsellor at Law Kyle Krull is president of the Law Offices of Kyle E. Krull, P.A., an Estate Planning Law Firm located in Overland Park, KS. Estate Planning Attorney Kyle Krull has provided continuing education instruction to attorneys, accountants, and financial professionals at local, state, and national programs.

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POSTED ON: June 20, 2024

Dealing with inheritance issues? Learn your rights and how to contest a will and preserve your loved one’s wishes.

Our law firm receives multiple calls each week from people wanting to contest the wills of their deceased loved ones.

Some of those loved ones have been dead for decades.

When you have been an estate planning attorney for more than 30 years, you have seen and heard it all.

Dealing with the death of a loved one is never easy, and it can be even more challenging for those who have questions about their inheritance.

And, people do have the right to challenge a will that they feel is wrong.

Disclosure: I do not and never have represented anyone contesting a will.

This brief article is not meant to be a "how-to" legal treatise but to introduce the topic generally.

Consequently, I recommend searching online for an "estate litigation" attorney because not all estate planning attorneys handle such cases.

What Should You Do When Unsure About Your Inheritance?

When a loved one passes away, it is natural to have questions about your ultimate inheritance.

The first step is to understand the will's contents and the executor's role.

The executor administers and manages the decedent's estate until the close of "probate" when the probate court orders the distribution of assets according to the will.

When to Challenge a Will

Consider the story NJ.com shared, where a woman was unsure if she received the right inheritance after her mother died.

The woman struggled to communicate with her brother, the executor.

The last she had heard from her mother, she had assets such as insurance policies, a safe deposit box, and a paid-off home.

However, the brother claimed their mother had liquidated her assets and taken out a reverse mortgage on her home.

The "bottom line," according to brother?

There was nothing left.

Yikes!

Upon this revelation, the woman concluded that she was being defrauded of her inheritance.

Will contests

Will contests are one of the saddest things I encounter as an estate planning attorney.

What Does it Mean to Contest a Will?

Contesting a will involves legally challenging its validity.

Beneficiaries often do this because they believe the will does not accurately reflect the decedent's wishes.

You may be able to contest a will if you have standing and valid legal grounds.

Generally, you can challenge a will if you believe it has been revoked or is legally invalid.

As MetLife describes, the most common grounds to contest a will include:

  • Forgery: Believing the will was signed by someone other than the decedent or the decedent was not mentally competent.
  • Lack of due execution: The will was not executed following legal protocols.
  • Mistakes or incompleteness: The will contains errors or is unfinished.
  • Mental incapacity: The decedent was not of sound mind when creating the will.
  • Undue influence: The decedent was coerced or manipulated into signing the will.
  • Revocation: The decedent had revoked the will by creating a new one or destroying the old one.

Who Can Contest a Will?

To contest a will, you must have legal standing.

This means you have a financial interest in the estate.

For example, you would have standing if you were named in a previous version of the will or if state intestate succession law would leave you to inherit the estate without a will.

How Can You Protect Your Inheritance Rights?

If you believe you are not receiving the inheritance you are entitled to, there are steps you can take to protect your rights:

  • Communicate with the Executor: Try to resolve any issues by discussing them with the executor.
  • Request a Copy of the Will: You have the right to see the will and understand its contents.
  • Seek Legal Advice: If you cannot resolve the issue, consider seeking legal advice to explore your options.

What Should You Do to Contest a Will?

If you decide to contest a will, it is important to act quickly.

After all, most states offer a limited timeframe for you to file your challenge.

As noted above in my "disclaimer," not all estate planning attorneys are also estate litigators.

Make sure the attorney you contact has experience with will contests.

Key Takeaways

  • Understand Your Rights: Know what you are entitled to inherit and communicate clearly with the executor.
  • Legal Grounds: Contesting a will requires valid legal reasons such as forgery, lack of mental capacity, or undue influence.
  • Seek Legal Advice: Consult an estate litigation attorney if you have concerns about your inheritance or wish to contest a will.
  • Estate Planning: Creating a clear and legally binding will can help prevent disputes and ensure your wishes are followed.

This post is for informational purposes only and does not provide legal advice. You should contact an attorney for advice concerning any particular issue or problem. Nothing herein creates an attorney-client relationship between Harvest Law KC and the reader.

References: MetLife (Jan. 30, 2023) "Contesting a Will: What to Consider"

NJ.com (Feb. 18, 2019) "My mom died. How can I know I'm getting the right inheritance?"

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