Most of us know the importance associated with solid estate planning — especially if we have assets to divide. One of the most important aspects of planning is the will. Many of us think of the will as the final word in inheritance. However, this is far from the truth. Some things, like beneficiaries listed on retirement accounts and life insurance policies, supersede what is in a will. And, there is always the possibility of contesting a will if you feel as though distribution wasn't what it should be.
Contesting A Will
As you might imagine, though, contesting a will isn't exactly a walk in the park. First of all, you need to find out the procedure for your state. If you feel that you have been left out for a reason that doesn't make sense, or you don't like what you received, it's vital that you actually determine whether you have reasonable grounds to contest the will, and that you know the law in your state.
Also, be prepared to pay. While you might be able to intimidate the executor of the will into giving in if your demands are small and you threaten to contest, there is also a good chance that it will cost you upward of $10,000, by the time you pay litigation and attorney costs. You also need to be ready for it to take two or three years to come to a conclusion. And don't forget about the ill will and relationship toll it can take.
Reasons To Contest A Will
If you decide that contesting a will is worth it, you need to examine the situation, and figure out if you actually have grounds. Here are some of the reasons that you can contest a will:
- Accidental Disinheritance: Were you born after your parents' last will was made? If they never got around to updating their estate planning, or making a new will, many states allow you to contest the will on the grounds that you were accidentally left out.
- Incompetence: This is one of the main reasons that wills are challenged. You have to show that the deceased was incompetent when he or she wrote the will. It doesn't count that dementia set in three years ago if the deceased wrote the will 10 years ago, in control of his or her mental faculties. It takes a lot to prove incompetence, including witnesses and medical records from the time that the will was written.
- Undue Influence: Was the writer of the will subject to undue influence? In some cases, a will might be changed to illogically include someone who is in a position to influence the writer. This can include a new spouse who works to get the children excluded, or a health care worker that spends a lot of time with the writer.
- Improper Execution: It's also possible to contest a will based on the idea that it wasn't properly executed. If there are multiple versions of the will, and they aren't clearly dated, you can also contest based on the fact that the will in question might have been revoked. You can also try to prove that the will is a forgery.
Realize that you can't contest a will based on sour grapes. If the writer did everything right, and was of sound mind, the will stands, and it's a waste to contest it.