When a parent dies, emotions run high. The tremendous loss often raises a lot of questions for heirs. Sometimes disputes about money, assets and other estate administration matters cause or deepen rifts among siblings. If your parent has recently passed away and you are concerned about the execution of the will, you may be able to challenge it. Learn about the New Jersey rules for contesting a will and potential strategies.
1. Lack of capacity
Your parent must have had sufficient mental capacity-or testamentary capacity-when the will was being drafted. Although there are roadblocks for proving insufficient mental capacity, collecting interviews of witnesses and medical records can create compelling cases. An estate planning attorney can assist you with interviewing witnesses and investigating medical records.
2. Procured by fraud
Another strategy for challenging a will is if the will was created by fraud. This means your parent was tricked into signing the will. For example, someone may have approached your parent with a will but claimed it was another document, such as a power of attorney or deed. Proving will fraud usually requires witness testimony.
3. Undue influence
As people get older, they can become more vulnerable to extreme pressure. Undue influence is different than fraud, because rather than being tricked into signing the document, they are severely pressured. Proving undue influence takes more than providing evidence your sibling nagged or threatened your parent. More extreme measures must be proven, such as covering the costs of the will, isolating your parent from friends and family or hiding the original will.
4. Lack of formalities
A will must be signed according to strict rules to be considered valid. While it may be easy to assume the will was signed by your parent in the company of two witnesses, this is not always the case. If the signature on the will is not your parent's or two witnesses were not present, the validity of the will may be questioned.
There are several other legal grounds for contesting a will. Other strategies may be used based on the unique details of your situation. If you think another party has exploited your loved one and the will is prejudiced against you because of it, it is a good idea to get advice from an estate planning attorney. An attorney can also answer any questions you have about the probate process. Legal counsel will help you navigate the distressing and confusing process after the loss of your loved one.