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Will Contest

St Johns Will Contest Attorney

Serving Ponte Vedra, Ponte Vedra Beach, Palm Valley, St. Augustine and Neighboring Areas

A will is an important component of estate planning, which proceeds through Florida’s probate process. There are, however, instances when wills can be challenged (after the death of the person whose wishes are represented within – known as the testator – but not before). Often, those affected by a loved one’s will are not aware of its contents until after the testator’s death, when the information is revealed via probate. Although wills are designed to uphold the wishes of the people who create them, there are situations in which the law will intervene. If you have questions or concerns about a will that affects you, don’t wait to reach out and discuss the matter with an experienced St. Johns County will contest lawyer. 

Contesting a Will in Florida

In Florida, anyone who wishes to contest a will must first file a petition in the relevant probate court. To have the will revoked or invalidated, however, you will need a significant and relevant legal reason for doing so. 

The Validity of the Will

One of the most common reasons for challenging a will is its validity, which can be predicated on the competency of the person who created it or can be called into question in relation to the existence of subsequent or additional documents that challenge its contents. The validity of a will can also be called into question in relation to the exertion of any undue influence over the testator. 

The Exertion of Undue Influence

When a will is contested on the grounds of someone having exerted undue influence on the testator, it refers to a third party’s engagement in some form of manipulation that led to the testator altering the will for that person’s benefit. Often this manipulation amounts to executing an entirely new will, modifying an existing will, or editing a beneficiary to the estate. The exertion of undue influence is the most common reason for challenging the validity of a will, but in order for this claim to prevail, all the following elements must be met:

  • The person accused of exerting undue influence must stand to gain substantial benefits from doing so.
  • The person accused of exerting undue influence must have enjoyed a confidential relationship with the testator.
  • The person accused of exerting undue influence must have been active in the creation of the will.

The Removal of a Beneficiary From the Estate

While every testator has the right to add or remove beneficiaries from their estate planning tools, including their will, doing so as a result of coercion or another form of undue influence is contestable. For example, if the testator in question suffers from Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, a change in beneficiaries that benefits someone who may have exerted undue influence is unlikely to hold up in court. 

Lack of Testamentary Capacity

Wills tend to be exacting legal documents. For them to hold up in court, testators must be up to the job at hand at the time of their creation, meaning having the ability to fully comprehend everything addressed in the will, including matters related to assets and beneficiaries and the overall effect of the document. If the testator experiences diminished capacity related to any of the following, it could support a contested will:

  • A late-life illness, such as dementia
  • A brain injury
  • Impairment by alcohol or drugs (including prescription medications)
  • A disability

Anything else that interferes with the testator’s ability to make well-informed decisions can also suffice, including what is termed insane delusion. If you can demonstrate that the testator drafted the will while in the throes of what can be identified as legal insanity, you can contest it. The Supreme Court of Florida finds that an insane delusion amounts to a spontaneous and unwavering acceptance of something – that exists only in the imagination – as fact in spite of all evidence and reason to the contrary. 

Under Duress

If a testator’s will is the direct result of someone else’s threats against them, it naturally calls the document’s validity into question. This question applies to the overall will as well as to any modifications that are made. 

Fraud on the Estate

Another reason for contesting a will is the claim that someone committed fraud on the estate, which generally means that the will was executed under false pretenses. An example is when a beneficiary misrepresents relevant facts or lies to the testator to influence the will’s creation or to alter a will that’s already in place. Fraud on the estate can come in any of the following forms:

  • Fraud in execution – when the testator is tricked into signing a will
  • Fraud in inducement – when the testator is misled to believe they are required to sign the will
  • Fraudulent misrepresentation – when the testator is lied to in relation to what signing the will entails

Forgery is another obvious form of fraud. If the testator’s signature is determined to be a forgery, the court will almost certainly invalidate it. 

A Will’s Improper Execution

A will is a legal document that must rise to the level of being accepted by the court and must include all of the following:

  • Being properly signed by the testator 
  • Being properly drafted 
  • Being properly witnessed (by two additional people) 

In other words, there are a variety of highly specific circumstances in which a will can be called into question, but the legalities are so exacting that having a dedicated will contest lawyer in St. Johns on your side is always in your best interest. 

Those Who Are Allowed to Contest a Will

Generally, those who are allowed to contest a will include the following:

  • Anyone who is not named in the will but would have been eligible to inherit through Florida’s laws of intestacy (laws that dictate how estates that are not addressed by wills are distributed in the state)
  • Anyone who is a beneficiary named in the current version of the will
  • Anyone who is a beneficiary named in a previous version of the will

The Timeline to Contest a Will Is Tight

In Florida, after the Notice of Administration – which notifies all interested parties regarding the death of the individual in question – is dispersed by the administrator of the estate, you have a mere 90 days to make a move in relation to contesting the will. Doing so includes all the following:

  • Weighing the options available to you
  • Gathering the necessary documentation in support of your claim
  • Hiring a practiced St. Johns will contest attorney 
  • Filing a formal lawsuit that contests the will

Contesting a Will for Undue Influence

When a claimant charges that undue influence was exerted, they make the assertion that the testator’s actions in relation to the will were not voluntary due to someone else’s pressure, influence, or persuasion. The individual who challenges a will on these grounds shoulders the burden of establishing that undue influence was exerted. 

Contesting a Will for Lack of Testamentary Capacity

To execute a will in Florida, the testator must be of sound mind, meaning that they must clearly comprehend all the following:

  • The extent and nature of the property they own
  • The practical effects of a will
  • The relationship of those who are usually in line to inherit

Establishing testamentary capacity is a lower bar than the establishment of standard capacity. In fact, factors such as the following do not – on their own – establish a lack of testamentary capacity:

  • Advanced age
  • Memory failings
  • A shift in judgment
  • Physical failings

The testator’s testamentary capacity is typically presumed, and a lack of such capacity must be proven by the person who is challenging the will. Further, it must be demonstrated that the testator lacked testamentary capacity at the time the will was signed, which makes the burden of proof that much more difficult.  

Contesting a Will’s Execution Formalities

The first order of business when it comes to a will is proper execution, which is typically a more straightforward inroad into contesting it. To begin, the testator must be at least 18 years old and of sound mind to create a valid will in Florida. At this point, the will must be examined to ensure that all the following requirements are met:

  • The will is in writing. 
  • The will is signed by the testator.
  • The testator acknowledges signing in the presence of two witnesses.
  • Both witnesses must sign the will in the presence of the testator and of one another.

Reach Out to an Experienced St. Johns County Will Contest Lawyer Today 

Thomas Upchurch is a trusted will contest lawyer at Upchurch Law Attorney in St. Johns, Florida, who is committed to helping clients like you effectively and efficiently resolve their contested will concerns. 

We are here for you, too, so please don’t wait to contact or call us at (386) 272-7445 for more information today.

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