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Why would an heir or beneficiary challenge a will?

Drafting a will can be a complex process. While it might be difficult for Michigan residents to initiate the estate planning process, once started individuals tend to make details wills. This helps ensure that their wishes and desires after their death are followed. While these legal documents can seem clear and precise to the creators, when a will is executed the heirs and beneficiaries may not agree with the terms. This could result in a will contest.

Why would an heir or beneficiary challenge a will? While it is technically difficult to challenge a will and roughly 99 percent of all wills pass through probate without any issues, there are some causes and reasons to make a valid will contest. Anyone who might have an interest to gain from a will has the ability to challenge it. However, courts look at wills as the voice of the testator. And, because the testator is no longer around to speak about his or her wishes, the courts tend to stick rather stringently to the will.

The most successful challenges are brought by the spouse of the testator, and the most successful grounds are asserting that the person lacked testamentary capacity or that the person was unduly influenced or persuaded to write the will in a certain manner. If a challenge is successful, the will can be voided entirely or just in part. In some cases, if an older version exists, this version can be reinstated. Otherwise, if the will is voided, the court will distribute the property and assets as if no will existed.

In order to have testamentary capacity, a person must be an adult, be 18 years of age or older and have the capacity to create a will. Adults are presumed to have testamentary capacity. However, a person could challenge this by asserting that the testator had senility, dementia, insanity, was under the influence of a substance or lacked the mental capacity to create a will. Other causes to challenge a will include fraud, forgery and undue influence. These acts typically involve a person manipulating the testator into leaving property or assets to the manipulator.

If you seek to challenge a will or you are in a situation where another heir or beneficiary is challenging a will you have an interest in, it is important to be aware of your rights. Understanding the process and how to move forward will help protect the rights of everyone involved.

Source: Findlaw.com, "Reasons to Challenge a Will," accessed April 16, 2017

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