After someone in your life dies, you may be dealing with a flood of emotions. Whether the passing was sudden or expected, there is always a certain amount of shock and sorrow. The many plans to make and details to take care of - including funeral arrangements, contacting relatives and consoling your family - often temper those feelings.
What you may not expect is to learn that your relative excluded you from the will or that the inheritance you received was not what you expected. The surprise of this announcement may be harder to take if someone unexpected received a more generous inheritance. You may even consider taking steps to contest the contents of the will.
Legal grounds for a will dispute
Contesting a will is not as easy as it sounds. In fact, it is quite a difficult task and one the Florida courts limit to only a few circumstances. Otherwise, the courtrooms would be full of unhappy people who feel slighted by a relative's meager bequest. The four main legal grounds for challenging a will are these:
- The execution of the will did not meet the requirements of the law.
- Your loved one did not have the mental capacity to sign the will.
- Someone used excessive influence on your loved one to sign or change the will.
- Someone tricked your loved one into signing a fraudulent will.
The first obstacle you will meet is that the burden of proof is on you. In each of these cases, you will have to present evidence that the impropriety occurred.
Can you prove your case?
It is not out of the question that someone pressured your loved one into signing a will that benefited the one exerting the pressure, especially if your relative was elderly, ill or otherwise vulnerable. The court's standard of undue influence is often high, and you would likely need witnesses to prove your challenge. The same may be true for fraud although Florida law requires two witnesses to validate the signing of a will. If those witnesses support your claim, your chances may improve.
Claiming that your loved one lacked testamentary capacity to sign the will may be one of the most difficult factors to prove. Testamentary capacity is a very low level of coherence. In fact, if your loved one had a form a dementia, he or she needed clarity of thought only for the time during which the signing of the will took place. Again, the witnesses may testify to what they saw.
Perhaps the easiest irregularity to prove is that your loved one did not execute the will within the guidelines of state law. Speaking with an attorney who is knowledgeable of Florida estate planning laws could help you determine if your situation has the potential for a successful will contest.