Situations that might give rise to an inheritance dispute

On behalf of Scaringi Law posted in Estate Planning on Friday, January 16, 2015.

Although proactive estate planning can go a long way toward avoiding an inheritance dispute, it can be beneficial for readers to understand the basics of how a will or trust might be legally contested.

As a preliminary matter, is should be noted that a will or trust dispute may arise in several circumstances. Fighting among beneficiaries might be the scenario that comes first to mind. However, another reason might be when a beneficiary is concerned that a loved one’s will or trust does not reflect his or her actual intentions.

Notably, a legal challenge may be possible on this type of good faith ground even if a will or trust contains a no contest clause, stating that any beneficiary that challenges the terms of the inheritance will forfeit his or her bequest. The reason is that courts generally want to honor the intentions of the grantor, especially if there is probable cause to suspect that the actual documents do not reflect that intent.

So what might constitute legal grounds for suspecting an unintentional discrepancy in a will a trust? Lack of capacity is one, where the grantor may have lacked the mental capacity to fully understand his or her actions at the time the will or trust was created and/or signed. Fraud might be another, where another person may have unduly influenced the grantor.

However, there is an instance where a will or trust might be questioned even if the grantor had capacity and the document accurately reflects his or her intentions. Specifically, if a will or trust was improperly witnessed or signed, or otherwise procedurally flawed, a will contest might arise. Fortunately, the court may be able to remedy this outcome if witnesses testify to their participation or signatures.

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