Just because someone has a will does not mean their estate is immune from disputes. Legal challenges to the validity of a will happen frequently. Tense family dynamics, disgruntled relatives, and would-be beneficiaries often lead to heated disputes.
There are several legal grounds for challenging a will. They include:
- Improper execution: Both Oregon and Washington require certain formalities when creating and executing wills. At minimum, wills must be put in writing and witnessed (signed) by two neutral parties. A will that does not meet these requirements may be challenged as invalid.
- Lack of testamentary capacity: The person who makes a will (in legal terms, the “testator”) must be of “sound mind.” At the time they make the will, they must understand the nature of what they are doing. They must have a general idea of their assets and possessions as well as their family members and heirs. Conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s often raise questions about the testator’s mental capacity to create and execute a will.
- Undue influence: When an outside party exerts enough influence over the testator (who is often in a vulnerable state of mind) to essentially replace the testator’s wishes with their own, the will may be the product of undue influence. Financial exploitation is often at play.
- Fraud: Like undue influence, this frequently involves a wrongdoer taking advantage of a vulnerable adult. Unlike undue influence, fraud is outright deception or trickery rather than mere influence. With both fraud and undue influence, a person challenging the will must show that the testator made decisions he or she would not otherwise have made.
- Competing wills: Sometimes multiple versions of a will surface after the testator’s death, leading to disputes over which is valid. This complication is often caused by the testator improperly revoking a prior will.
Whenever questions arise concerning the validity of a will, proper legal representation is critical for navigating contentious estate litigation.