Will contests are a particular form of family dispute, increasing in frequency given the ongoing transfer of generational wealth. Protecting an interest in an inheritance may be critical to the financial security of you and your family. Whether you are an executor who is defending a will, or a person who wishes to contest a will, you should consult a lawyer experienced in both evaluating and litigating estate disputes.
There are numerous reasons to contest a will. Sometimes the issue isn’t whether the will is valid, but how to interpret its provisions. Either way, will contests and other forms of estate disputes march to their own rhythm and are subject to special procedural rules in court.
While people are physically healthier and living longer, the downside is the increase in forms of dementia. Also, with families spread further apart there are more opportunities for improper influences. Wills, deeds, and account designations may be improper used to hijack inheritances away from the deceased intended wishes.
More than wills are subject to challenge. As part of our probate and estate litigation practice in Texas, we handle cases regarding challenged deeds, accounts, and life insurance designations. increasingly, such instruments transfer more than wills.
There are a variety of reasons to contest a will, trust, or deed in Texas:
- If the deceased was suspected of being mentally incompetent at the time the will, trust or deed was written
- If it is suspected that the deceased was unduly influenced by someone who would directly or indirectly benefit from the will, deed or beneficiary designation
- If two or more contradictory wills exist and investigation yields inconclusive results as to which was the final legal will
- If the will is suspected to be a forgery
- If the will or trust was improperly written, was unclear, incomplete, or contradictory and therefore was not enforceable
- If there are technical imperfections in the execution or witnessing of the document.
Even an attorney prepared will may be subject to attack, rightfully or wrongfully. While an attorney prepared will be technically correct, the attorney may not be aware of the testator’ mental condition or whether the will was the product of undue influence.
A will can be challenged only after death, not while the maker of the will is still alive, although the facts surrounding the creation of the will can be gathered and preserved for subsequent litigation.
Whether you are defending or contesting a will, it is extremely important that you consult a litigation attorney. Many estate and probate attorneys do not have substantial experience in handling contested estates. And many general litigation attorneys are not familiar with the rules pertaining to estates. Consequently, there are a limited number of attorneys skilled in evaluating and litigating contested estates.
Along with consulting with an experienced probate litigation attorney, it is also important that consultation happen as soon as possible. Particularly as soon as possible after the testator dies. Whether you are defending or contesting the will, you will be working closely with the attorney to prepare a summary of the facts and prepare a litigation strategy. Collaboration is key, and you should not hire an attorney who does not have the patience to explain the process and answer your questions up front.
We handle will contests throughout Texas, but with a particular focus on North Central Texas. We handle such cases on either an hourly or contingency fee basis, depending on client wishes and resources.