Going through probate court is largely a formality for most grieving families. Most estates that require probate oversight have an executor that submits paperwork, pays off creditors and then distributes property just like the testator wanted. The courts monitor the process to ensure that the executor resolves all of the main issues for the estate.
Unfortunately, sometimes, family behavior leads to actual litigation in probate court. One of the more common forms of probate litigation is the will contest or estate challenge. When family members or prospective beneficiaries have specific concerns about potential family misconduct, they can sometimes bring a legal challenge against the escape plan or will itself. The courts could set aside the documents or refer to an older estate plan by the same testator.
What two kinds of family misconduct have a strong correlation with will contests?
Fraud or forgery
When someone wants more of an inheritance than they think they will receive, they might use underhanded measures to secure more property for themselves. Sometimes, they will forge signatures on new documents that give them more inheritance rights or will alter existing documents.
Other times, they might fraudulently trick a testator into signing something without knowing its contents. If you have reason to suspect either of these situations affected the documents for your loved one’s estate, you may be in a position to contest those documents.
People don’t always rely on tricks or fake documents to get what they want from someone’s estate. Sometimes, they are perfectly happy to threaten or mistreat a testator to get what they want.
Especially when family members like children or new spouses fill a caregiver role for a medically vulnerable or elderly adult, they may use their position to pressure that adult into changing their estate plan.
Undue influence could involve manipulating someone into thinking the rest of the family has abandoned them by denying communication and visitation. It might also involve directly demanding more inheritance as compensation for their work. Some caregivers will even withhold food or pain relief until they get what they want.
Fighting back against these forms of misconduct will typically require probate litigation, but a will contest may be the only way to uphold your loved one’s actual wishes.