Death comes to us all eventually. Yet it’s still human nature to grieve whenever someone we love passes away. And these emotional moments will likely become considerably more difficult to deal with if you feel you’ve been unfairly provided for in their Will.
While we have laws which recognise people’s right to choose who they want to have their possessions after they’re gone, there’s still a number of reasons why someone may choose to contest their Will. A Will can be contested by one of the beneficiaries as well as any other eligible person who had a legitimate interest or relationship with them.
The one thing in common with all Will disputes is that they happen after losing a loved one, which is the worst possible time. But if you’re in this circumstance, you may have no other option than to dispute the distribution of the inheritance. With that in mind, here are some of the most common reasons someone may be able to legally contest the Will.
The Will Is Invalid
One of the most common reasons beneficiaries decide to dispute a Will is because they question its validity. There can be a number of legal reasons why a Will may be deemed invalid, such as not following the correct signing process, they were coerced or pressured to sign it, or there is evidence to suggest the Will was forged in some way. The Will may also be considered invalid if the testator’s final wishes regarding the distribution of their estate aren’t clear, thus requiring the Court to clarify any ambiguity and confusion after their death.
Exclusion Or Significant Disparity
Beneficiaries may feel betrayed when they find out that the asset distribution isn’t equal, or if they aren’t mentioned in the Will at all. For example, siblings often decide to contest a Will if it states they will receive a lower percentage of their parent’s estate than their other relatives. For example, a quarter of all Will disputes in Australia are in relation to additional family members like siblings or step-siblings. In fact, some of the most serious disagreements occur when a Will does not appropriately take into account the legitimate needs of each beneficiary.
Mental Capacity Of Testator
Another common reason someone may decide to contest a Will is the belief the testator was not of sound mind at the time the Will was executed so they lacked the mental capacity to understand the Will they were signing. When a Will is written and signed, the testator must be of sound mind in order to understand not only the contents of the Will but also how it will impact their beneficiaries. If it is proven that their Will was prepared at a time when they were not mentally healthy, the division of inheritance may be carried out as instructed in earlier versions of their will. Otherwise, if there was no earlier Will made, intestacy rules will ultimately dictate how their estate is divided.
Delay By Executors
The executor of a Will is in charge of distributing the assets of the estate by obtaining a Grant of Probate from the court. If the executor delays this process for over 12 months for whatever reason, anyone expecting to be named as a beneficiary can make an application for the Supreme Court to set a deadline for the executor. If that deadline is missed, beneficiaries can then decide if they want to take the matter further and have the executor legally removed.
Accusations Of Influence
Sometimes a beneficiary is accused of unduly influencing the deceased to write their Will which goes against their true wishes. While most cases of undue influence occur after recently marrying their spouse not long before their death, it may also occur through other types of intimidation, deception, or blackmail. A Will that was created or signed under any type of duress or influence is challengeable in court so it can be declared invalid, but it’s often difficult to prove. Talk to a wills and estates lawyer from AJB Stevens regarding the evidence required in order to successfully prove undue influence in court.
How AJB Stevens Can Help If You Need To Write Or Contest A Will
As you can tell, it’s extremely important that a Will is drafted by an experienced solicitor and then updated regularly whenever your circumstances change. Our team at AJB Stevens can certainly help ensure your Will is legally binding.
Contesting a Will is often complicated, which also adds emotional stress to an already difficult situation. But if you feel you weren’t treated fairly in a loved one’s Will, there are often some legal options available to you. Talk to our team of expert estate lawyers at AJB today so we can help get you what's rightfully yours.