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Do I have cause to contest my loved one's will?

When a parent or other loved one has passed, you have enough to process and deal with. It may fall to you to make the funeral arrangements or begin the process of cleaning out your relative's home, or you may simply join with friends and family to console one another. No matter if your relationship with your relative was close or strained, this time is seldom easy.

What you may not expect is the shock when you learn that you are not receiving the inheritance you expected or were promised. If the will on file at the end of your loved one's life is far different from the one you thought or knew existed previously, you may wonder if you have grounds to contest the validity of the current will.

Four legal grounds for challenging a will

Contesting a will is not something just anyone can do. Because anyone could run to court who disagrees with a parent's decision to minimize an inheritance or eliminate an heir altogether, the courts wisely place limitations on the reasons one may cite for believing the will to be invalid. If you plan to dispute your loved one's will, delaying the probate process and potentially alienating yourself from other family members, you generally must demonstrate that one of these four factors is present:

  • Your loved one did not have adequate mental capacity at the time he or she signed the will. Testamentary capacity is critical when someone signs a will. Your loved one must know and understand the kinds and value of the assets in the estate, the logical heirs of those assets and the fact that he or she is signing a will. This can be difficult to prove because testamentary capacity need only be present at the time your loved one signed the will, not beyond.
  • Someone used undue influence to coerce your loved one into changing the will. Undue influence is more than threatening or nagging. Your loved one must have felt severe duress and acted because he or she had no choice. This may have included isolating your loved one from you and other family members or consulting privately with your loved one's attorney.
  • Someone used fraud to deceive your loved one into signing a will. This happens when a fraudster tells a vulnerable person that a document is something else in order to gain the signature. This can be difficult to prove.
  • The will does not meet the valid requirements under Texas law. This includes having the right number of appropriate witnesses and other factors.

Any one of these may be a challenge to prove, and the courts generally presume a will is valid. To pursue the path of contesting your loved one's will, it can help to have all the information necessary about the process and to obtain legal guidance.

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