When a loved one dies, sometimes relatives are shocked to learn that they have been left out of the will. While their feelings of anger and confusion can be completely understandable, people have the right to do as they see fit with their money and possessions, both in life and in death.
However, as with most aspects of the law, there can be exceptions. Simply being dissatisfied with the way an inheritance is divided is insufficient grounds for mounting a will contest. But if one of the following four conditions can be proven, you may want to take legal action.
- There was fraud involved. Wills can be invalidated if a testator was duped into signing a document, e.g., if he or she was told it was another document like a property deed.
- Someone exerted undue influence over the testator. Maybe a relative kept pressuring the individual to make changes to an existing will.
- The person lacked the capacity to execute a will. The testator was suffering from or diagnosed with dementia that made him or her incapable of stating his or her final intentions.
- The will was improperly executed. Unless the will conforms to all relevant rules of the state of Ohio, it is not considered valid.
Will contests can be expensive, but if the estate is large and particularly valuable, it might be a worthwhile investment providing one of the above scenarios occurred.
What if you want justice to be served?
One elder-law attorney in another state had this to say: "All unjust situations should be pursued, but if all you're going to get is the balance of a checking account worth $2,000, and it costs tens of thousands of dollars to bring the case, the cost-benefit analysis doesn't really justify it."
There may be another path to justice if the decedent was abused by an heir. Criminal charges could be lodged against the alleged perpetrator.
There is still another factor to consider when debating whether to contest a will. Irreparable damage to any existing relationships with other beneficiaries is common fallout from will contests. Collateral damage may also occur if siblings (and their offspring) are forced to take sides.
Learning about all of the options that are available to you is advisable when contemplating challenging a will's validity.
Source: AARP, "Where There's a Will ...," Nancy Mann Jackson, accessed Dec. 15, 2017