Contesting a will is more common than heirs, beneficiaries and executors may think.
We tell our clients every day: Disputing a loved one’s will or trust does not make you a bad person. All too often wills resulted from interference from a loved one or an interloper. We work with heirs, beneficiaries, administrators, executors, and personal representatives on well-founded will disputes, every day.
Before we get into our top ten tips, let’s begin by saying that we all hope to have an estate plan that avoids anyone involved in disputing and contesting a will. Take a look at Mary Quigley’s article published by the AARP, with good tips to help siblings avoid inheritance disputes. It covers many of the basics. If you have questions about this, please email us any time.
Next up, are all will disputes and contests filed by “bad guys”? Not at all. Even if you read Christine Fletcher’s article in Forbes, which touches on some of the real-life negative aspects of will disputes, we can assure clients that the process of contesting a will, estate, or trust can and should be clear, focused, and manageable.
So, here are eight things we think every high-wealth beneficiary should know about disputing a will, estate, or trust:
1. Contesting a will is normal
Disputing a will or trust is more common every day. All too often a loved one is taken advantage of or, increasingly, is managing his or her affairs long after he or she should have gotten help. In these situations, a will contest is not only a smart thing to do, but it protects what your loved one intended. A recent report suggests that at least around 1.5% of all wills are disputed by well-intentioned beneficiaries.
2. First thing, ensure you have standing.
Do you have the right to contest or dispute a will? Well, if you’re an heir or beneficiary (person named in the will), you likely have standing. Here’s a list of common disputes:
- Will drafted incorrectly;
- Will executed incorrectly;
- Disinherited heir/disinherited beneficiary;
- Unnatural disposition of estate; not making reasonable financial provisions;
- Will created, will amended or will revoked by an infirm loved one
3. The most common dispute: Not making reasonable financial provision for an individual.
An AARP article by Nancy Mann Jackson offers a common example, wherein a daughter received no inheritance, even though she was well-liked and had a wonderful relationship with the deceased. Often heirs are disinherited without good reason, giving cause to reasonable disputes. We would recommend contacting a will contest lawyer to discuss your case.
4. Consider the original intent of the will, estate, or trust.
Families and intentions change and grow over time, but one way the courts determine your loved one’s intent is to map their stated intentions over time by examining their historical estate planning documents, including their old wills and trusts for patterns and inconsistencies.
5. The first legal step to any dispute a will is to file a will contest
We prepare and file our client’s will contests. While technically a law firm is not required to initiate a dispute, if you don’t file your claim correctly it could be dismissed and your claim could be barred forever. Generally we see three types of contests: (1) undue influence; (2) incapacity; and (3) financial elder abuse.
6. Avoid family conflict by clearly setting forth your concerns
Often heirs or beneficiaries are concerned that their will contest will disrupt family harmony. However, if you express your concerns clearly, empathetically, and without letting your emotions get the best of you, you will not only help the court understand your dispute, but you will help your family members understand that it’s not just “all about the money.”
7. What’s the best way to avoid a dispute?
Create an estate plan, and update it at every major life event, or every 12-24 months. Like we said earlier, we like Mary Quigley’s helpful article published by the AARP, which helps siblings avoid inheritance disputes. An experienced estate planner is an excellent way to lower the risk of disputes, and avoid unnecessary litigation.
8. How do you find an estate litigation attorney?
There are several helpful tools to help you find top lawyers in your area. If you’re in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, or Kansas City please contact RMO Lawyers. In other locations, registries like this can help you find a trusted local attorney.
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RMO LLP provides personal, cost-effective litigation services to individual and institutional clients. The firm’s attorneys focus on trust, estate, probate, conservatorship, securities and business litigation. RMO has offices in Los Angeles,Orange County, San Diego and Kansas City. For more information, please visit https://rmolawyers.com/.