Drafting and filing a will is not always enough. What if that will isn’t valid? What if it doesn’t hold up in court? These cases lead to a lot of estate disputes and the process of sorting everything out — what happens to the estate if the will is invalid? — can take a long time.
Maybe you’re worried about this because things don’t seem to add up with your parents’ will. Maybe there are red flags, like most of the assets going to one person, or maybe you think they overlooked some critical factors when creating that estate plan in the first place.
To start, you’ll need to determine if it is valid or not. Here are a few potential reasons why it might not be:
1. Undue influence
As noted above, perhaps most of the assets ended up with one beneficiary. It could be a sibling, a family friend or another family member. In some cases, it’s a caregiver.
If the will was recently changed so that most of the money went to that person, it may be that the person used undue influence and coerced your parent into giving them the assets. Many times, caregivers and family members are in a position of power over a vulnerable elderly individual. They may use this to force the person to make the changes under duress. Those changes are then invalid.
2. Acting under fraud
Another illegal tactic people sometimes use is direct fraud. They trick someone who doesn’t fully understand the legal process into signing the document.
For instance, maybe your parent signed a massively altered will right before their death. You know that they also had to sign a lot of documents while selling their house. Someone could have given them the will and got them to sign it without reading it by telling them it was just a document for the house.
3. Lack of mental testamentary capacity
This essentially means that the person does not understand what they are doing. Was your loved one suffering from dementia? These types of mental issues can lead to estate planning mistakes and invalid wills when it is clear that they were not in the right mindset to make those choices. It may take a medical diagnosis, though.
4. Under 18
This may not apply to your specific situation, but it is worth noting that states have age restrictions. A person who drafts a will needs to be a legal adult, and a will made by someone who is under 18 is not valid. Maybe it’s not a parent who passed away, but a younger family member or a child.
If you think that someone’s will is invalid, you need to know exactly what steps to take. This process is about to get rather complicated, but it’s important to find a proper resolution.