The death of a parent is one of the most difficult times of a person’s life. Unfortunately, there are things that you have to do while grieving your loss, including the funeral, cleaning up their belongings, and providing support to other loved ones. That said, having your parent’s will contested adds more hardship to an already difficult situation. So, what are the right steps to take if someone — perhaps a sibling or an extended family member — decides to contest your parent’s last will?
A will contest doesn’t automatically mean that your parent’s will is going to be overturned. It is an expensive and tedious process that one will have to think twice before acting upon. Moreover, if someone is included in the will but decides to contest it, they may be risking losing their entire inheritance if they lose the case.
With this in mind, it may be easier for you to stay calm if such a situation arises. Emotions run high after the death of a loved one, and it’s important that you keep a level head if someone — especially a sibling — decides to file a contest.
Get a lawyer
Whether that particular person has a good chance of winning the case or not, it is wise to seek advice from an estate and trust litigation lawyer just in case. Having one by your side can help you navigate the process of fighting a will contest by another beneficiary. You can increase your chances of winning the case with an experienced attorney working with you.
A person cannot contest someone’s will simply because they feel they are getting an unfair share or because the deceased promised something to them through a verbal conversation. There are four legal reasons a will can be contested, which include the following.
- Fraud. If your parent signed the will due to fraud (e.g., someone asking them to sign a document saying that it is an insurance policy), that will is not valid and can be legally contested in a court of law.
- Mental capacity at the time of signing. One of the most common reasons why wills are contested is due to the will holder not having the mental capacity to create or understand the will at the time of signing, especially for people with dementia. If your parent understood what their assets were, who they were giving them away to, and what effects their will would hold, they are considered mentally capable of creating the will. However, this may be difficult to prove after the death of your parent.
- State requirements. A will is only considered valid if it is signed while the state’s requirements are met, such as having two witnesses and personally signing the will. If there is an issue with the will’s execution, it may be considered invalid.
- Undue influence at the time of signing. Sometimes, other beneficiaries may argue that someone influenced the deceased’s decisions while they were creating the will. This is fairly common in situations where one sibling was taking care of the aging parent while the others were away. In this case, a will contest by the other siblings or beneficiaries may be valid.
Hire a mediator
Mediation can be a less messy and less stressful way to handle will disputes than going to court. If beneficiaries want to claim the same assets and cannot come to an agreement, hiring a professional mediator can help. In this type of dispute settlement, the mediator serves as the neutral party to hear both sides (or multiple sides) of the disagreement and helps everyone involved come up with a viable solution.
Aside from helping reduce tensions and solve the problem more easily, mediation can also save money on lawyer fees. Hence, see if this is an option and gather up the beneficiaries when they agree.
Another option that may work for your family is to liquidate all assets and split the proceeds, either evenly or otherwise. Doing this may be the quickest and least stressful way to settle estate disputes once and for all.
Use a lottery for items
For family heirlooms and other valuables, consider using a lottery system to distribute the items while giving fair chances to everyone involved. Of course, everyone must agree not to dispute the results of the lottery to prevent further problems down the road.
Dealing with a parent’s death is already hard enough. You don’t need to handle a will contest on top of it. Nevertheless, it can happen, and you need to know what to do if another family member files a contest against your late parent’s will.