If you’ve ever wondered whether your estranged relative could contest your will, the answer is simply yes. In some cases, relatives may try to contest a will based on fraud or duress. However, a court of law will always require proof. So, can estranged relatives successfully contest your will?
What does estranged relatives mean exactly?
To be an estranged relative, you must have been separated from a family member for a long time. The definition of estranged is someone who has been separated from a group, society, or relationship. In other words, they are no longer part of your life and it’s unlikely that they ever will be again.
So let’s say you have an estranged relative who may contest your will after you pass away. It’s then important to know why they may do so and how to avoid this situation.
If a relative feels that your will is not valid, they can contest it
For example, perhaps you don’t have the capacity to make a will or someone forced you to write a will under duress. Then the court may decide that your wishes were not true and invalidate the will. In that case even a relative who you haven’t named in your will can also contest it. This could also be the case if they feel that you did not treat them fairly.
Contesting a will: lack of legal capacity
The most common reason to contest a will is because the person who made it had no legal capacity. A lack of legal capacity could be because of mental illness, physical illness or even drug and alcohol abuse.
This can be a complicated area if you think someone’s capacity is being questioned by others. Let’s say a court has declared a person as mentally incompetent. Then they automatically lose their right to make decisions about property and assets. An estranged relative may still try to make such a claim about you.
Contesting a will: fraud or duress
Fraud or duress occurs when a person intentionally distorts the facts of a situation. This person usually aims to cause someone else to do something. Fraud and duress can include fraudulently representing one’s identity among other. Another such example is concealing information about an inheritance that can influence people to sign a will – or not.
The term “fraud” is often used interchangeably with “concealment.” But there are some important differences between them. Concealment involves hiding material facts from someone. Fraud involves intentionally misrepresenting these facts in order to persuade that person into signing something. For example, saying “I’m your daughter” when you’re not is concealment. That’s because you are withholding information about who you really are. On the other hand, telling an estranged brother that he’ll get half of your estate if he signs your will is fraudulent. That’s because you’re trying to fool him into believing that there this is true.
Contesting the will because left out of the will completely by mistake
There is second main reason that an estranged relative may contest a will. That’s if they think that you left them out of it by mistake. Of course, that doesn’t happen often as most people are aware of the fact that are not close with a relative anymore.
You can see how this could cause problems. For instance, let’s say that only one spouse receives assets from an estate plan. That’s despite the fact that you could have included both. Then chances are good that they’ll want to contest that part of the will. So how do we avoid these kinds of disputes? The best way is for everyone to create a comprehensive estate plan.
Contesting a will always requires proof
The grounds for contesting a will are very specific. For example, you should prove that the deceased person did not have the mental capacity to write a will. Alternatively, you need evidence that they wrote their will under duress or fraud. Only then you may be able to contest it. And the same applies for these estranged relatives. This might see insignificant but it’s crucial to keep in mind that proof is essential in a court of law.
An estranged relative with no proof will have most probably no success contesting your will. The rest of your loved ones can always attest to the nature of your relationship with this person. However, what an estranged relative can absolutely do is cause distress to your beneficiaries by prolonging the probate.
Many people can contest your will, including estranged family members. This doesn’t mean that they will succeed it too. There’s an array of pieces of evidence that they need to present and often contestation takes place out of spite. Are you wondering how you can protect your will from estranged relatives? Have a look here.
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