Do I Have Legal Options if I Believe a Will is Invalid?
Facing the death of a beloved family member or friend is incredibly challenging, but the situation can become even more complicated during the probate process. Sometimes families experience a painful shock because the will is not what they anticipated. While an unexpected will is not necessarily an invalid will, if someone has strong reasons to believe that a will does not reflect the deceased individual’s wishes, they may be able to file a suit to contest it.
A skilled Texas will contest lawyer can explain who is eligible to contest a will and what other grounds they must meet to begin this process. If you have any questions, contact our law office today to speak with a compassionate legal professional.
Which Individuals Have the Right to Contest a Will in Texas?
Only certain people are legally allowed to contest a will. The Texas Estates Code specifies that “an interested person” has the standing to bring a suit before the court to challenge the validity of a will. According to the legal definition, an interested person is someone who has a claim or right to the deceased individual’s estate.
Eligible individuals may include:
- Spouse: A person legally married to the decedent.
- Heirs: Anyone who would have inherited if the decedent had died without a will, including those closely related through blood, adoption, or marriage.
- Divisees: Individuals named in the will, whether they are family, friends, business partners, charities, or distant relations.
- Creditors: People or entities with a claim against or a stake in the estate.
On What Basis Can a Will Be Contested?
In addition to being an interested person, you must also provide the court with a valid reason for alleging that the will should not be executed as written. It isn’t enough to simply claim that the terms of the will are unfair. The court will not intervene when an individual has clearly specified their last wishes for their estate unless it can be proven that the will was invalid or some element of illegality was involved. There are six commonly used grounds for contesting a will.
A will must be a voluntary creation of the person who makes it. If someone placed pressure on the individual or otherwise forced them to write a will in their favor, it could be considered undue influence. It can be challenging to prove undue influence because there is rarely any direct proof of the influencer’s actions. However, an individual contesting a will may be able to demonstrate that the terms of the will were out of character for the decedent, and the party that benefitted had the means and opportunity to place pressure on them.
Lack of Mental Capacity
To legally make or alter a will, a person must have testamentary capacity, which is the ability to understand and make decisions regarding their estate. If the testator did not have the mental capability to comprehend what they were signing or the impact that it would have, then their will may not be valid.
Issues With Execution
There are strict rules laid out in Texas law that describe how a will must be executed. If steps are missed, and all the requirements are not met, then the will might not be considered a valid legal document. For example, if it was not witnessed or the testator failed to sign it, it could be contested for lack of due execution.
Fraudulent inducement involves deceiving or tricking a testator into making a decision or signing a document. For example, a family member could induce an individual into signing an altered version of a will by claiming it was a medical form or another document.
An unscrupulous individual could also engage in outright fraud and forge the decedent’s signature on the will or add text or pages to it. Any will that occurs through these circumstances is invalid.
If the will is not well-written, it may contain ambiguous language that leaves room for interpretation. For example, if someone owned three homes and their will only stated that they wanted to bequeath a home to each of their three children, it can be unclear which child should receive each house. If the heirs cannot reach a satisfactory conclusion on their own, in interested party can ask the court to interpret “or construe” the will, and evidence can be provided to determine the testator’s intent.
A will can be revoked either by physically destroying the original document or by executing a newer one. If you have sufficient proof that a more recent valid will exists, you could contest the current will on the grounds of revocation.
Is There a Time Limit on Contesting a Will?
In nearly all situations, you must contest a will in Texas within two years of it being admitted to probate. If you fail to meet this deadline, the court will likely refuse to hear your case.
Of course, it is best to begin the process with the help of an experienced estate lawyer as soon as you suspect there may be an issue with the will. Acting promptly gives you and your legal team the best possible chance of collecting evidence to support your lawsuit before it is forgotten by witnesses or destroyed.
Why Consult With a Probate Litigation Attorney?
Individuals contesting a will must prove through a preponderance of evidence that the will is more than likely invalid. This can be a challenging, complex task and requires a deep understanding of estate law. Not all wills that are suspect or questionable are worthy of the time, effort, and expense of an action to contest. If you are considering contesting a will, the knowledge of an experienced probate probate litigation lawyer can be invaluable. Contact our office today to learn how we can assist you during this difficult time.