Did you know that when an individual passes away, their last will and testament becomes THE document that dictates the distribution of their assets and property. An individual’s last will and testament should allow everything to go according to plan, reflecting the genuine wishes of the decedent. However, disputes, also known as will contests, could arise.
So what information do you need to know about will contests if you find yourself involved in or foreseeing such a scenario in Florida? You need an understanding of the basics. We have answers to several questions below. We want to help you understand not only what a will contest is, but assist you in navigating the situation you may find yourself in.
- What exactly is a will contest? It is a legal challenge to the validity of a will or its specific terms. It is brought to a probate court by an individual who believes that the will does not accurately reflect the wishes of the deceased or that it was executed under questionable circumstances.
- Is it possible for anyone to contest a will? No, because not everyone has the legal standing to contest a will and you will want to discuss this with your Florida attorney as soon as possible. Usually only “interested parties” can contest a will. These include beneficiaries named in the last will and testament, those who would inherit under Florida state law if there was no will, or those who would inherit more under a prior will.
- Are there any common grounds for contesting a will? Yes and no. While there are different grounds in different states, what we often see are the following claims:
- There was undue Influence. This is the claim that the deceased was coerced or manipulated into drafting the will in a certain way, usually benefitting the influencer.
- There was a lack of testamentary capacity. In this instance, the claim is that the deceased did not have the mental capacity to understand what they were doing when they made the will.
- There was fraud. This involves a situation where the deceased was misled into signing the will or including certain provisions based on false information.
- There was improper execution. Florida has specific requirements for executing a will, such as witness criteria. If these are not met, the will may be able to be contested.
- There is an existence of a later will. If a more recent will is discovered, it may supersede the older one.
- Is there a process for contesting a will? Yes, once someone decides to contest a will, they typically need to file a formal objection with the Florida probate court before it approves the will’s execution. The process then involves legal procedures, potentially including discovery, witness testimonies, and expert consultations. You will want to meet with your Florida attorney first to discuss the process for your unique situation.
- What is the cost for contesting a last will and testament? Contesting a will can be expensive. Costs can include attorney’s fees, court costs, expert witness fees, and other associated expenses. It is essential to weigh these potential costs against what’s at stake with your Florida attorney. To avoid a prolonged court battle, parties sometimes opt for mediation or other alternative dispute resolution methods to settle their disputes regarding a will.
We understand that the passing of a loved one is emotionally taxing and the complexities of will contests can add another layer of stress. It is highly recommended to consult with an experienced Florida estate planning and probate law firm if you believe a will contest is on the horizon. They can provide invaluable guidance, ensuring your rights and interests are protected and that the wishes of the deceased are honored appropriately.
We know this article may raise more questions than it answers. We know you may have questions about this, and many other, estate planning issues. At Perlin Estate Planning & Probate our credentials enable us to provide a multi-disciplinary approach to our legal services. By building relationships with our clients, we are also able to understand each client’s needs and desires, and we support such goals through thoughtful, comprehensive planning techniques. We encourage you to contact us and schedule a meeting.