The loss of a loved one, particularly a parent, is often an emotional time period filled with grief and uncertainty. Unfortunately, in the midst of that grief there are practical, legal matters that must be addressed, such as the probate of the decedent’s estate. If you recently lost your father, for example, that likely means that someone has submitted your father’s Last Will and Testament to the appropriate court in order to initiate the probate process. What happens though, if someone contests your father’s Will?
Like most people, you have undoubtedly heard of a Will contest, most likely a sensationalized version involving a multi-million dollar estate or a Hollywood blockbuster version that has little to do with reality. Contrary to what many people believe, a Will cannot be contested simply because an heir, or potential heir, was left out of the Will or is unhappy with his/her inheritance. A Will contest must allege that the Will admitted to probate is not a valid Will.
In the State of Missouri, only an “interested” party may challenge a Will admitted to probate. An “interested” person included beneficiaries under the Will, legal heirs to the estate and anyone who could potentially benefit if the Will is declared invalid. Moreover, there is a time limit in Missouri within which a Will contest must be filed. As a general rule, a challenge to the Will must be made within six months from the date notice of the probate of the estate was effectuated.
If someone who qualifies as an “interested” party does file a Will contest within the allotted time frame, the challenge must allege legal grounds on which the Will could be declared invalid. The most common of those grounds include:
·Revocation – this alleges that the Will entered was either revoked explicitly or by execution of a subsequent valid Will.
·Lack of testamentary capacity – this is the “He/she wasn’t in his/her right mind” allegation.
·Undue influence – this alleges that someone exerted improper influence over the testator that prompted him/her to execute the Will.
·Fraud – such as allegations that the Testator did not realize he/she was signing a Will or that changes were made to the document after execution.
Once a Will contest is filed the entire probate process effectively comes to a halt because the validity of the Will must be determined before moving forward. If a Will contest is successful it means the Will admitted is declared invalid. If that occurs, the court will look to a prior valid Will for guidance on distributing the decedent’s estate. If no prior Will exists the estate will be distributed using the Missouri intestate succession laws. If the Will contest is not successful, the Will submitted will continue to be used to probate the estate.
If you have additional questions or concerns about a Will contest, contact the experienced Missouri estate planning attorneys at Amen, Gantner & Capriano, Your Estate Matters, LLC by calling (314) 966-8077 to schedule an appointment.