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Can you challenge a person's will?

A loved one passed away. When the will was presented, you were shocked. You could not believe it was accurate. Can you contest it?

Possibly. Two groups of people typically have a legal right to do so:

Close relatives

Courts do not want distant relatives challenging a will. Just because someone's cousin or nephew did not inherit anything does not mean a court case is needed.

The court usually considers who would have gotten that person's assets if the will had not been written prior to death. That usually means the person's spouse, if he or she was married, and children. Grandchildren may be included.

People from prior wills who were then cut out

This category can be more broad. The people named do not have to be close relatives. They just have to have a stake in the process. They lost something because of the will.

For instance, maybe you are a close family friend. You would have no normal legal claim, but the deceased promised you a cabin on the lake before passing away. The two of you had shared some great weekends there over the years.

In the first draft of the will, the cabin went to you. In the most recent draft, though, it was given to the children. You believe the children may have altered the will to keep the property in the family -- they had no relationship with you, after all -- and you do have a legal right to contest that will.

Starting the process

Contesting a will can be a complex process, and the burden of proof falls on you. Make sure you know what legal options you have.

For those writing a will, be sure to consider who can contest it and how the way the will is drafted can cause conflict in the future. In many cases, challenges can be avoided with careful estate planning.

Source: The Balance, "Who Can Contest A Will?," Julie Garber, accessed April 26, 2018

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Harrell, Stoebner & Russell, P.C. Attorneys at Law

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