There’s a common myth in the United States that basically assumes that a decedent’s last wishes can never be challenged as long as he or she has executed a will. For a variety of reasons, this is simply not the case, as wills get challenged on a regular basis. In Florida, it is important to understand what might lead to your will being contested, so that you can close off those possible avenues of invalidation. The good news is that there are ways that you can minimize the possibility of a successful challenge to your Last Will and Testament – but that requires that you understand the reasons why your will might be vulnerable to a legal challenge.
Possible Reasons for a Contest
To be fair, there are too many reasons for contesting a will to accurately include them all here. There are cases in which an heir is disinherited and disputes that decision. In other instances, some heirs might take offense to the distribution of assets. We’ve all seen cases where a decedent’s second or subsequent marriage became a focal point of controversy, as ex-wives and children from prior marriages have tried to contest the current spouse’s inheritance. Needless to say, human beings can have a great many emotional reasons for challenging the terms of any will.
When it comes to legal reasons for contesting a will, however, the range of acceptable challenge issues becomes much narrower. Those legal reasons for contestation of a Last Will and Testament include:
- The document doesn’t meet the Florida requirements for execution. Those requirements dictate that a will must be signed with two witnesses present, and a notary public must verify that everyone present signed the document properly. This failure to follow the formalities outlined by law is a common weakness in many do-it-yourself wills, and one very good reason to rely on a professional attorney’s advice.
- Fraud was involved in the creation of the will. This most commonly involves someone tricking the deceased into signing a will, and sometimes sees the challenger claiming that another party convinced the decedent that he was signing some other type of document.
- Incapacity accusations fuel more than their share of will challenges as well. These cases go right to the heart of the deceased’s legal capacity for managing his own affairs, signing documents, and so on. In other words, the challenger basically claims that the deceased lacked the mental ability to understand what he was doing.
- Undue influence is sometimes claimed. That claim essentially accuses someone else of using questionable tactics to convince the deceased to sign a will that did not reflect his actual wishes.
- Dead hand control concerns can also be a valid reason for challenging a will. These challenges can be brought by beneficiaries who find that their inheritance is contingent upon some objectionable condition. For instance, the deceased may have required that a particular heir marry a certain person.
- Some people in Florida are encouraged to contest wills by the fact that the state does not allow no-contest clauses to be enforced. Since there is no threat of being disinherited for issuing a challenge, some heirs will gamble that they can increase their windfall with legal action.
Why Do Challenges Matter?
At first glance, some might be tempted to think that frivolous challenges are hardly worthy of consideration. The problem is that they can create a whole host of complications for the estate and the decedent’s heirs. Legal challenges can tie a will up in probate court for a longer period of time, and can increase the costs associated with the probate process. When issues of competency are involved, the public nature of probate can provide disgruntled heirs and others an avenue for causing the family of the deceased pain and even embarrassment. Moreover, many of these cases are brought with little or no evidence to support the claims, but the court has little choice other than to examine each accusation.
The best way to prevent your family from enduring the additional stress caused by legal challenges is to ensure that your will can easily survive any contest of this nature. That requires taking steps now to remove any doubt about things like undue influence, competency, and similar concerns that might lead to further complications down the road. The good news is that there are things you can do to strengthen your will and help shield it from these types of challenges:
- Have an attorney help with the creation of the Last Will and Testament. That can help you to avoid common mistakes in language and terms, and give you the peace of mind that comes from knowing that your will was properly drafted and executed.
- Your will can demonstrate that you were competent when it was created, if everything is laid out in a coherent and ordered manner. An attorney can help you with this process as well, but helping to properly describe your property, heirs, and distributions in a way that is easily understood by anyone reading the document.
As you can see, your best options for protecting your will against legal challenge all involved the assistance of an attorney. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, since your Last Will and Testament is a legal document, and can only benefit from the assistance of an experienced legal expert. If nothing else, you should at least have an attorney review your document before you assume that everything has been done properly.
At Robert Kulas Attorneys at Law, we’ve seen how frustrating it can be for families who have to wade through complex legal challenges to their loved ones’ wills. Often times, these contests can rip open long-buried family grievances and add to the grief that the deceased’s loved ones already feel. Our legal experts can help your family avoid those dangers by providing you the assistance you need to ensure that your own will can survive any legal action. If you’d like to know more about how we can help you strengthen your will, contact us online or call us at (772) 398-0720 today.