Although creating a will is an important component of estate planning, it is not uncommon for beneficiaries and heirs to dispute the instructions in a legal proceeding known as a will contest.
Reasons for a Will Contest
It is important to note that beneficiaries cannot challenge a will simply because they were dissatisfied with the distribution plan. Instead, there must be a legal basis for a will contest. One is that the will was improperly executed. Under Massachusetts law, a will must be signed by the testator (the person making the will), as well as two witnesses. The most common reason for a will contest, however, is that the testator lacked mental capacity.
For a will to be legally binding in the state, the testator must be at least 18 years of age and be of sound mind. If an individual has a medical condition that impairs their ability to understand the reasons for making a will, the court may find that the testator did not have mental capacity. This challenge often arises in conjunction with a claim of undue influence, which occurs when a beneficiary or caregiver induces someone to create a will or amend an existing one.
Tip for Avoiding a Will Contest
While it may be tempting to write a will by downloading a form document from the internet, it takes a skilled estate planning attorney to review and draft a will to ensure that it is properly executed and legally binding.
In addition, to avoid claims of incapacity, it is critically important to plan your estate while you’re healthy. Unfortunately, many people put off creating a will, often because confronting our mortality is daunting. Waiting to make a will until your physical or mental health is declining raises the potential of a future claim that the will is invalid due to incapacity. Moreover, to avoid claims of undue influence, a will should be prepared without the beneficiaries’ involvement.
Once the will is in place, however, you should discuss the distribution plan with your loved ones to avoid future disagreements. Finally, when nominating an executor, it is crucial to choose someone who is capable and trustworthy and will be able to mitigate disagreements among family members.
Why This Matters
A will contest can become a protracted and costly legal battle as well as an emotional burden for your loved ones. Ultimately, the best way to avoid a will contest is to work with an experienced estate planning attorney.