What Strategies May Be Employed to Defend a Texas Will Against Contestation?

Each will contestation case is highly individual, and the appropriate methods for proving the validity of a will can vary based on the nature of the contest. Texas law only allows will contests based on specific legal reasons. Simply being disappointed or unhappy with the distribution of assets outlined in the will does not justify a will contest. Instead, the legal challenge must be based on doubts regarding the validity of the document itself or the testator’s true intentions.

Identifying the reasons cited by the contesting party in their claim is the first step to determining how to proceed with the defense. The following are some of the most common reasons for will contests and associated defense strategies for each. Keep in mind that this list is not comprehensive and cannot take into account the unique complexities of your case. If you are an executor tasked with defending a will, it’s vital to promptly seek the representation of a skilled Texas wills attorney who can guide you through the process and prevent unnecessary legal issues and delays.

Refuting Undue Influence

Undue influence in the context of a will contest refers to situations where someone pressures or manipulates the testator (the person making the will) into making decisions that are contrary to their true intentions. In Texas, proving undue influence involves demonstrating that a party subverted or overpowered the testator’s mind, leading to changes in the will that would not have occurred without this influence.

Providing evidence that the testator made decisions freely and without external pressure can help refute claims of undue influence. An executor may show that any requests made to change the will were not coercive or manipulative but reflective of the testator’s own wishes. Testimony given by the testator’s family and friends, which emphasizes that the provisions in the will align with the testator’s known intentions and relationships with beneficiaries, can dispel the notion that the will was created under duress.

Proving Testamentary Capacity

Lack of testamentary capacity refers to a situation where the testator did not have the mental capability to understand the nature of the will, the extent of their assets, or the implications of their decisions when creating and signing the will. A will can only be considered valid if the testator possessed an adequate understanding of the will and its provisions when it was written. However, the burden of proof in will contests lies with the contesting party. They must provide sufficient evidence that the testator lacked mental capacity to get the will invalidated. These claims may be challenged by experts with in-depth knowledge of the individual’s mental state, such as the decedent’s primary physician.

Rebutting Claims of Forgery or Fraud

It is considered forgery if a will or any of its provisions were drafted by someone else without the knowledge and input of the decedent. Fraud may occur if the testator is tricked into signing a will without realizing it. Demonstrating that the will was properly signed, witnessed, and executed according to Texas law is essential in refuting claims of fraud or forgery. Evidence that the will was created in compliance with legal requirements can help establish its authenticity. Handwriting analysis of signatures or holographic wills, witness testimony, or other documentation that supports the genuine nature of the will can also strengthen your defense.

Challenging the Standing of the Contestant

Only individuals with legal standing as “interested persons” can contest a will in Texas. According to Texas Estates Code ยง 22.018(1), interested persons include heirs, devisees, spouses, creditors, or others with a property right in or claim against the estate being administered. It is crucial for those considering contesting a will to confirm their legal standing as interested persons and ensure they meet the criteria before initiating legal action. The executor or their legal counsel can ask the court to dismiss the case if the contesting party does not possess the right to pursue such a contest.

Does a No Contest Clause Within the Will Automatically Prevent Contestation?

A no contest clause within a will may disincentivize frivolous legal action by heirs after the testator’s passing. These clauses often stipulate that an individual will lose their inheritance if they file an unsuccessful or unnecessary will contest. However, these clauses are not meant to discourage or prohibit will contests brought in good faith by beneficiaries with genuine concerns about a will’s validity. While a no contest clause may dissuade people from filing a baseless challenge, it cannot be considered a defense on its own, and an executor should seek legal guidance if the will is contested.

How Can an Experienced Estate Law Attorney Help You Fulfill Your Role as an Executor During a Will Contest?

At The Hatchett Law Firm, PLLC., we understand that a will contest can quickly become stressful and overwhelming for an executor of an estate. Emotions may run high as family members air disagreements and disputes. Meeting your legal responsibilities to the estate can become a full-time job as you must attend hearings, organize documents, and gather evidence. Promptly enlisting the assistance of a skilled attorney at the first notice of a will contest can help prevent the situation from spiraling out of control.

By leveraging the skills of our estate law attorneys, you can receive valuable support in defending against challenges to the will, safeguarding the testator’s intentions, and navigating the legal complexities of a will contest in Texas. Request a free, in-depth case evaluation today by calling 281-771-0560 or completing our online form and learn how we can assist you.