The death of a loved one is a difficult time for those left behind. The situation can become even more painful if you feel that you have reason to contest your family member’s will or trust. Working with an experienced estate attorney is the first step in achieving closure and moving on with your life.
Contesting a Will or Trust
To contest a will or trust, you must be a beneficiary, or you must be in a position that you would have inherited some portion of the estate had a will not existed. In Michigan, courts typically consider spouses, children, parents, grandchildren and sometimes siblings as interested persons who may have standing to contest if there is a question regarding the validity of the will or trust.
Grounds for Contesting
Along with establishing legal standing, you must show evidence of impropriety in order to contest a will or trust. Grounds for contesting may include:
- Inadequate mental capacity of the deceased person at the time the will or trust was created. The court takes into account the individual’s state of mind only at the time the will or trust was signed and not at the time of the individual’s death.
- Inappropriate influence, such as the deceased person having been pressured into signing by someone who would benefit from the will or trust. Threats and withholding needed medications are examples of inappropriate influence.
- Fraudulent activity, such as the individual who signed the will or trust not having realized what was being signed.
- The existence of a more-recent version of the will.
- Inadequate witnessing or signature of the will. If you contest based on a will having signatures that were forged, courts can require that witnesses appear to verify their signatures. You also can contest on the grounds that the document did not have the required number of witnesses.
In some cases, the language in a will or trust may be confusing or unclear. If you dispute the meaning of language in a will or trust, you can work with your attorney to petition the probate court asking for an interpretation of the document’s true intent.
If the court determines that the language is unclear or ambiguous, the estate may be distributed based on the court’s interpretation of the meaning.
Many wills and trusts include clauses stating that beneficiaries who contest the document can be penalized, including giving up rights to property that would have been inherited. Such “no-contest” clauses are intended to discourage family members who may feel slighted by what they’ve received in the will or trust.
State law determines whether no-contest clauses are enforced. In Michigan, the clauses are not honored if probable cause exists to begin the process of contesting a will or trust.
Work with an Experienced Attorney to Contest a Will or Trust
If you have legal standing for contesting a will or trust and you have adequate grounds, you can begin the process by working with an experienced attorney. Your attorney will:
- Advise you on time limitations and other requirements for filing your action with the probate court.
- Assist you with the necessary forms that will need to be filed.
- Help you gather evidence supporting your claim, including different versions of the will or trust in dispute, information about the deceased person’s mental state at the time of signing, and any documentation supporting an allegation that a document was forged.
After you file your claim, the probate court will investigate. During the investigation, the approval of the will or trust is put on hold until the court makes a decision. A representative of the estate may be required to present evidence supporting the contested document. After reviewing the evidence, a probate judge will rule on whether the will or trust is valid.
Regardless of the reasons you wish to contest a loved one’s will or trust, a skilled attorney can assist you with reviewing your legal case and beginning the process. To speak with an experienced will and trust attorney, please contact Gold & Associates, P.C.