A will contest is a legal proceeding in probate court that challenges the validity of a will. When a person dies, their assets are typically distributed according to their will, which outlines how their property should be divided among their beneficiaries. However, if an interested party believes that the will is invalid, they can contest it in probate court.
A will contest can be initiated by anyone who has an interest in the outcome of the probate proceedings, such as an intestate heir of the decedent or a beneficiary named in a prior will. There are several grounds for a will contest in Texas, including lack of testamentary capacity, undue influence, fraud, and improper execution.
Lack of Testamentary Capacity
One of the most common reasons for contesting a will is when the testator lacked the required testamentary capacity to make the will. To create a valid will in Texas, the testator must be of sound mind and understand the nature of the act they are performing. This means that they must understand both the property of which they are disposing and the identities of their closest family members who would inherit by default if the testator did not leave a valid will.
If the testator had a mental illness, dementia, or was under the influence of drugs or alcohol when they made the will, the validity of the will could be challenged. The contestant would need to provide evidence that the testator lacked testamentary capacity at the time the will was created, such as medical records or witness testimony.
Another reason why a will may be contested is that it was the product of undue influence. Undue influence occurs when someone uses their power or influence to manipulate the testator into making a will that benefits them or someone else. For example, if a caregiver or family member pressures the testator into leaving them a larger share of the estate, the validity of the will could be challenged.
To prove undue influence, the contestant would need to show that the testator was vulnerable to the influence of others, that the influencer had the opportunity to exert that influence, and that the influencer actually did exert undue influence over the testator. Evidence could include witness testimony, medical records, and other documents related to the testator’s mental state and the circumstances surrounding the making of the will.
A will may also be contested if it was created under fraudulent circumstances. Fraud occurs when someone intentionally deceives the testator into making a will that they would not have made if they had known the truth. For example, if someone forges the testator’s signature on a will or lies to the testator about the contents of the will, the validity of the will could be challenged.
To prove fraud, the contestant would need to provide evidence that the testator was intentionally deceived. This could include witness testimony or other evidence that demonstrates that the testator did not understand what they were signing.
Finally, a will may be contested the will was not executed with the formalities necessary to make a valid will. For example, in Texas for a will to be valid it must be in writing and signed by a testator who is over 18 years old in the presence of two subscribing witnesses. The witnesses must be over the age of 14 and must understand that they are witnessing the testator’s signature. If the will was not properly signed or witnessed, its validity could be challenged.
Our Attorneys Have Litigated Will Contests In San Antonio And Throughout Texas
To contest a will in Texas, the contestant must file a lawsuit in the probate court. The lawsuit must name the executor of the will and all of the people who would be affected by the outcome of the lawsuit, such as the heirs or beneficiaries of the estate. The contestant must provide evidence to support their claim that the will is invalid.
The executor and any interested parties will be notified of the hearing and given an opportunity to present evidence. The burden of proof is on the contestant, who must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the will is invalid.
If you are considering filing a will contest, it is highly recommended that you seek the assistance of an experienced probate litigation attorney. There are several reasons why it is important to have qualified legal representation when filing a will contest:
- Understanding the legal process: Filing a will contest involves complex legal procedures and requirements. An attorney can guide you through the process and ensure that all of the necessary legal steps are followed.
- Investigating and gathering evidence. Contesting a will requires gathering evidence to support your claim. An attorney can help investigate the circumstances surrounding the creation of the will and gather evidence to support your case.
- Assessing the strength of your case. An attorney with experience prosecuting will contest can help you assess the strength of your case and advise you on the likelihood of success. They can also provide an objective assessment of the potential risks and benefits of pursuing a will contest.
- Protecting your rights. A qualified probate litigation attorney can protect your rights and interests throughout the legal process. They can ensure that you are treated fairly and that your interests are represented in court.
- Minimizing stress and emotional strain. Contesting a will can be emotionally challenging and stressful. An attorney can help alleviate some of the stress and emotional strain by handling the legal aspects of the case on your behalf.
- Maximizing your chances of success. Finally, an attorney with experience in probate litigation can help maximize your chances of success in the case. They can develop a strong legal strategy and present evidence effectively in court to support your claim.
A will contest is a complex legal proceeding that requires knowledge of both probate and civil litigation law. Furthermore, because the cost of litigating a will contest is significant, these matters are often taken on a contingency basis in which no fees are paid to the attorney unless a successful outcome is obtained for the client.
Contact Our Will Contest Attorneys Today For A Free Consultation
An experienced probate litigation attorney can provide the guidance and support you need to successfully challenge a will and protect your interests. To schedule a consultation with one of our will contest attorneys at Aldrich Law Firm, PLLC, please call us today at (210) 418-1150 or send us a message by completing the intake form on our website.