Being left out of a loved one’s will can be a devastating experience, but successfully challenging, or contesting a will, is unlikely just because you don’t like its terms.
Four legal challenges exist for contesting wills in New York, and each of them can be difficult to prove, which means a will contest can be lengthy and expensive.
Basic requirements for creating a will in New York
The Empire State has very few stipulations for creating this standard estate planning document. The person drafting the will – or testator – must be of sound mind and at least 18 years old, and two witnesses must sign the document.
When can a will be contested?
When a will contest is successful, it is declared invalid by a judge, the contents are effectively thrown out and the estate’s probate proceeds as if it never existed. The four main challenges are:
- The will doesn’t meet state requirements: Wills signed in an attorney’s office usually meet the basic legal requirements noted above. However, it’s the most common reason why wills are found to be invalid.
- Testamentary capacity: For this challenge to be successful, you must prove the testator did not understand the nature and value of their assets and who should logically inherit them. These contests usually require a doctor’s certification of incapacity within days of the will being signed.
- Undue influence: Some will contests charge that testators were wrongly influenced by another person who used extreme pressure, forcing them to go against their own wishes as to how their belongings will be distributed.
- Fraud: This method involves the testator being tricked into signing the document. For instance, a person may have asked the testator to sign a form, which was presented as a power of attorney or other estate planning document, but in reality, it was their last will and testament.
Determine whether contesting a will is worth it
Will contests are rarely successful unless it’s proven that blatant lies were used, or that medical evidence shows that the testator was incompetent when the document was signed. An experienced probate attorney here in New York can help you determine whether you have grounds for challenging a will.