You are undoubtedly counting on the provisions in your Last Will and Testament to direct the distribution of your estate after you are gone. Ideally, that is what happens. If, however, someone successfully contests your Will, your wishes will not be honored. A better understanding of how a Will contest works can help you to decrease the odds of a successful challenge to your Will. With that in mind, the Long Island estate planning attorneys at Eghrari Wealth Training Firm explain what happens during a Will contest.
What Is a Will Contest?
Shortly after your death, your estate will go through the legal process known as “probate.” Probate serves several functions, including the eventual distribution of your estate assets; however, probate also addresses any legal challenges to the decedent’s Will. This is referred to as “contesting a Will.” Only people who have “standing” can contest your Will. Standing is the legal term that essentially means you have the legal right to bring the action in question. To have “standing” to contest a will in the State of New York, you must have a “pecuniary interest,” meaning a financial interest in the outcome. Typically, that means beneficiaries (under the Will submitted to probate or a previous Will), legal heirs of the estate, and creditors.
What Are the Legal Grounds for a Will Contest in New York
Contrary to what many people believe, a Will cannot be challenged based solely on the fact that a beneficiary isn’t happy with the inheritance they received (or didn’t receive) pursuant to the provisions of the Will. To succeed in a Will contest in the State of New York, a contestant must prove at least one of the following legal grounds on which the Will can be declared invalid:
- Improper execution, meaning that the Will was not properly executed.
- Revocation, meaning that the Will was revoked by the Testator.
- Incapacitation, meaning that the Testator lacked the required testamentary capacity to execute a Last Will and Testament.
- Fraud, meaning that the Testator was induced by fraud in making or executing the Will.
- Undue influence, meaning someone exerted undue influence upon the Testator in the making or executing the Will.
What Happens When Someone Contests a Will?
To legally challenge a Will, the contestant initiates the process by filing the appropriate documents with the surrogate court where the Will was submitted for probate. The person appointed to be the Executor of the estate in the Will is responsible for defending the Will throughout the litigation that follows.
Litigating a Will contest is like other types of civil litigation. Both sides will engage in discovery and attempt to settle the dispute without the need for a trial. If the parties cannot reach a mutually agreeable settlement, the case will proceed to trial at which time the contestant must attempt to prove the grounds that were alleged in the petition.
If the contestant is successful, the Will is declared invalid. At that time, the court would look for another valid Will to use to probate the estate. If none exists, the estate will be probated as an intestate estate using the New York intestate succession laws to distribute estate assets. If the contestant is not successful, the court will officially declare the Will valid, and the estate assets will be distributed according to the terms of the Will.
The best way to prevent a successful Will contest during the probate of your estate is to work closely with an experienced estate planning attorney when drafting and executing your Last Will and Testament.
Contact Long Island Estate Planning Attorneys
For more information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have additional questions or concerns regarding what happens during a Will contest, contact the Long Island estate planning attorneys at Eghrari Wealth Training Firm by calling us at 631-265-0599 to schedule your appointment.