HOW CAN I CHALLENGE A WILL?
Most of the time, the contents of a will are not unexpected. Those who knew the author of the will, the “testator,” anticipated how they would distribute their estate. Nonetheless, there are times when an heir, beneficiary, or creditor may suspect foul play and initiate a will contest.
Some testators include a “no-contest” or forfeiture clause in their wills to preclude a probate dispute. If they did not, and someone with an interest in the estate can establish firm legal grounds, they can challenge the validity of the will.
I am Russell Manning and as a probate attorney, I have been helping clients challenge wills in Corpus Christi, South Texas, and The Coastal Bend area for more than 30 years. I help clients shoulder their burden of proof that a will does not reflect the wishes of the testator.
WHAT ARE THE GROUNDS FOR CHALLENGING A TEXAS WILL?
As is true with any court case, you must have grounds for challenging a legal document. Attempts to challenge a will without sufficient reason will not be heard by the probate court.
The following are considered valid grounds for contesting a will in Texas:
Revocation - Questions may be raised if the testator revoked an existing will either outright or by the creation of a new will.
Improper Execution - A written will must be signed by two or more credible witnesses. If it is an oral will, it must be witnessed by at least three individuals. Texas law also allows holographic wills which must be entirely written in the testator’s hand but require no witnesses.
Lack of Testamentary Capacity - The testator must be of “sound mind.” They must have known what they were doing, who their close family members were, understood what assets their estate had, and had the capacity to make decisions regarding the distribution of their estate.
Undue Influence - There may be evidence that someone exerted influence over the decedent in the creation of the will. This could be a family member, friend, caregiver, or even an unethical attorney. Often, the person exerting undue influence is the primary beneficiary of the estate.
Fraudulent Inducement or Mistake - Like undue influence, this involves a person who misrepresents the content of the will to induce the testator to sign it without knowing what they are signing.
WHO CAN CONTEST A WILL?
Any party with an interest in the decedent’s estate can contest a will, including a spouse, heirs, creditors, business partners, or anyone with an interest in the property or assets of the estate.
Challenges should be raised by interested parties if they believe the will is somehow invalid, not because they are upset with not receiving what they believed they were entitled to. Disappointment is not grounds for challenging a will.
IS THERE A TIME LIMIT
TO CHALLENGE A WILL?
You have two years from the date the will is submitted to probate to challenge its validity; however, you do not have to wait until then if you suspect something is wrong.
WHAT IS THE PROCESS
FOR CHALLENGING A WILL?
The person who submits the will to probate following the testator’s death has the burden of proving the validity of the will to the court. If someone contests the validity, however, the challenger must prove any legal grounds that would render the will invalid. The court can order the parties in probate disputes to use mediation to resolve issues out of court
If the court finds the will submitted to be invalid, it can rely on the most recent previous valid will to determine the distribution of the estate. If there is no prior will, or the validity of a prior will is in question, the court can proceed as if the testator died intestate (without a will).
LET RUSSELL MANNING
ATTORNEY AT LAW HELP
Probate disputes happen but proving that a will is not valid can be difficult. Even a testator suffering from dementia or diminished capacity could have had a lucid moment during which they signed a will with full understanding of what they were doing.
If you believe someone took advantage of the testator, their mental capacity, played on their fears, or otherwise fraudulently created or revised a will, you should consult with an experienced Texas probate attorney. There is no need to bear the burden of proof on your own when you can engage knowledgeable legal counsel.
For more than three decades, I have helped clients tackle probate challenges in Corpus Christi, South Texas, The Coastal Bend area, and Bee, Kleberg, Nueces, Live Oak, Jim Wells, Aransas, and Victoria counties. If you believe there are reasons to contest a will, there is limited time to do so. Don’t wait. Call my office now to schedule a time to talk.