What Should You Do If You Believe Your Relative's Will Is Invalid?

The death of a family member or loved one can bring with it many unpleasant and difficult processes. If your relative had some assets at the time of his or her death, the probate process can introduce another potential source of consternation -- especially if you suspect your relative's will was amended against his or her will, or while he or she wasn't legally competent to make these changes. What should you do if you believe your relative's will is invalid? Read on to learn more about some of your legal options.

What factors can make a will invalid?

Each state sets their own laws regarding last wills and testaments, including the default division of assets when someone dies without a will. However, in order to create a legally valid will, all states require that the testator be of sound mind and knowledgeable of the decisions he or she is making. This is intended to prevent potential scammers from persuading someone to create or alter a will when they aren't physically or mentally capable of doing so due to illness or other infirmity. In other cases, someone could have misrepresented the will's contents to your relative before signing so that your relative believed he or she was agreeing to something different than actually written.

Depending upon the laws of your state, a will may also be held invalid if it lacks the required number of disinterested witnesses. Many states require wills to be executed in the presence of one or more individuals who aren't beneficiaries of the will -- so if a "deathbed will" is created and witnessed only by those who stand to benefit, courts may throw out this will as invalid.

What can you do to show that your relative's will shouldn't be honored?

If you believe that one or more provisions in your relative's will were created against your relative's true wishes, you may be able to argue that these provisions should be invalidated.

You'll first need to gather any evidence you have of your relative's intentions. For example, if your relative's will disinherits certain heirs in favor of others, but these disinherited heirs were in regular contact with your relative or had an otherwise good relationship, you can show this to the court through witness testimony, photographs, or letters.

You may also be able to attack the motivations of the person you believe is responsible for inducing your relative to change his or her will. Often, this person directly benefits from these changes, and the conflict of interest can be made clear.

If your relative's will is declared invalid but an earlier will had been executed, the probate court may distribute your relative's assets in accordance with the instructions of the original will. In other cases, your relative's assets will be distributed according to the default (or "intestate succession") laws of your state.

For more information, contact a probate attorney like those at Leon J Teichner & Associates, P.C.