You have been a devoted daughter taking care of your father. You managed his finances, checked in on him regularly, and arranged for in-home services to make sure he was well taken care of during his last years. He said many times that he wanted everything to go to you and your sibling when he passed. After he died, a new Will is filed in the Probate Court leaving his entire estate to an online girlfriend.
Contesting a Will can be difficult, emotionally draining, and typically very expensive. Additionally, just because you don’t like the decisions the person creating the Will, known as the Testator, made in the Will is not usually enough reason to dispute it. You need to establish two specific elements in order to proceed in contesting a Will: standing and legal grounds.
In order to contest a Will, you must have a financial and/or legal interest in the Decedent’s estate- called standing. Those who typically have standing are family members, such as spouses and children, or if you had been named in a prior Will. If your relationship to the decedent is simply a friend or neighbor, that is often not enough standing to pursue a Will contest.
Next, you must have the legal grounds for your contest. Proper legal grounds include:
- Improper Will Execution – In order for a Massachusetts Will to be considered created validly, it must be in writing, the Testator must be over 18 years old, of sound mind, and the Will must be signed by at least two persons who watched the Testator, as well as each other, sign the document. Additionally, the witnesses cannot be named in the Will. If the document is missing any of these elements, this could provide a basis for invalidating a Will.
- Undue Influence – As might have occurred in the above situation with the online girlfriend, undue influence means the Testator was manipulated by someone close to him or her into creating or changing a Will that would normally be against what that person would have wanted. In making this claim, the objecting person would generally need to prove the Testator would have made a different distribution but for the undue influence. Examples of undue influence include blackmail, exploitation of the elder’s disabilities, violating a trusted relationship, isolating the Testator, or playing on a Testator’s fears. A common scenario in successful contests is when the Testator is systematically isolated from family and friends by the primary beneficiary of the Testator’s new Will.
- Mental Incapacity – The Testator lacked the requisite mental capacity at the time the Will was executed. Medical records or a written statement by a doctor who examined the testator at around the time the Will was signed is often used to help prove mental incapacity, such as Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease.
- Fraud – Tricking or fraudulently inducing the Testator into signing the Will is another ground for contesting a Will. This can occur when the Testator is presented with a document to sign and not realizing it’s a Will. This situation is often difficult to prove as the testator can’t be questioned about what they thought they were signing.
Proving the online girlfriend committed undue influence or any one of these other grounds for contesting a Will is often very challenging. Before proceeding, it’s good practice to consult with a probate attorney who specializes in estate litigation to determine if there’s enough evidence to proceed and it’s timely filed.
Our Probate and Estate Planning Attorneys work with many families to discuss these critical life situations. If you would like to know if you have grounds to contest a Will, call our office at (978) 263-0006 to talk to one of our experienced attorneys.