Contesting a will is the process of challenging the legal validity of a will. The circumstances can be complicated and might stem from a grieving heir who believes the terms of the estate are suspicious, were unduly influenced by another heir, or a creditor seeking to recover assets not defined in the will.
Whatever the circumstances may be, contesting a will is not as simple as just challenging its validity if you feel the terms are unfair. There must be evidence to back up your challenge. Here is what you need to know.
There are four valid reasons to contest a will
Michigan probate law stipulates that there are four valid legal reasons to challenge a will. These include:
- If the will was not correctly signed per Michigan law
- If the testator, or individual writing the will, lacked the mental capacity to understand the terms
- If another individual exerted undue influence over the testator at the time of writing the will
- If some sort of fraudulent conduct was committed at the time of signing the will
The last two reasons commonly involve an individual who may have attempted, and succeeded, to coerce the testator into changing the contents of the will. In the case of fraud, a common example is the testator may have believed they were signing a completely different legal document.
Proving any of these four reasons is a challenge. As the burden of proof falls on the party contesting the will, it is critical to make legal arguments firmly rooted in the facts of what transpired, strongly supported by evidence.
Who can challenge a will?
Michigan law generally allows for two groups of individuals to contest a will:
- Heirs of the decedent
- Devisees who are affected by the settlement
Heirs typically consist of a surviving spouse, children or another relative who legally stands to inherit assets when the individual dies. Devisees are those named in the will to receive property or assets. These two groups both stand to be directly affected by a will contest and the ultimate outcome.
A lot can be at stake
Contesting a will can be a lengthy and costly process. Depending on the circumstances, it can put you at odds with your relatives, all while mourning the death of a loved one. Because of the stakes involved, working with an experienced probate attorney can help you understand what to expect and what comes next.