Probate litigation: An introduction to will contests in Texas
A will can be challenged based on any of a number of legally sufficient reasons.
Under Texas law, an interested party may challenge the validity of a will in a lawsuit called a will contest. A will may be found invalid on any one of several grounds.
It is smart for anyone with an interest in a will or estate who questions the instrument’s validity to contact legal counsel in order to understand how the particular circumstances of the will and its execution are viewed under Texas law and whether a will contest is in order.
Whether a person believes a will to be valid and must defend against a will contest, or the person doubts the instrument’s validity and is considering contesting it, an attorney’s involvement is important because the probate laws, court rules and case law involved in probate litigation are complex.
Some of the reasons a will may be found invalid in Texas include:
- Revocation: A will can be revoked when the maker, known as the testator, executes a later valid will that he or she intended to revoke the earlier one. Revocation can also be the result of a physical act such as by destroying the will.
- Lack of testamentary capacity: At the time a will was signed, the testator must have been of sound mind and mentally competent to understand the nature of his or her property and the family members who would normally inherit that property.
- Undue influence: If someone wrongfully dominated, coerced or controlled the testator to the degree that the testator’s free will was destroyed in the making of the will, it can be found invalid based on undue influence. Factors that may be present when someone unduly influences another include fear, intimidation, force, subjugation or duress.
- Improper execution: To be valid, a will must have been executed according to the required formalities of state law.
- Duress: A will executed because another person used force against or threatened the testator is invalid.
- Fraud: A will is invalid when executed based on the testator believing something to be true that was not because of the intentional provision of false information by another person.
- Mistake: Similar to fraud, a will is invalid if the testator mistakenly believed something to be true that was crucial to his or her choices in the will, but without the bad faith of another person in creating the mistake, as in fraud.
This is only a broad introduction to an intricate and complicated area of Texas law. A probate lawyer should be consulted for guidance by anyone potentially involved in a will contest.
The attorneys of the Aldrich Law Firm, PLLC, in San Antonio represent clients in southern and central Texas on both sides of will contests as well as in other probate litigation matters.