After the death of a loved one, the last thing anyone wants to deal with is legal paperwork and court battles. However, sometimes there is no other option but to contest a will, especially if there is a legitimate concern regarding a decedent’s final will.
Foundations for a Will Contest in Texas
When contesting a will in Texas, the court will consider whether the will was validly executed and whether the testator had the requisite mental capacity to execute the will. The court will also consider whether there was any undue influence or fraud involved in the execution of the will.
If there is a belief that the will was not validly executed, it can be contested on the grounds that the testator did not have the mental capacity to understand what they were doing when they executed the will. To be considered mentally competent to execute a will, a person must generally understand the nature and extent of their property, know who their natural heirs are, and understand what they are doing when they sign the document.
If there is a belief that undue influence or fraud were involved in the execution of the will, then there is a legitimate reason to contest the will as well. Undue influence occurs when someone uses coercion or persuasion to convince a testator to sign a will that is not in their best interests. Fraud occurs when someone makes material misrepresentations to a testator in order to convince them to sign a will.
Time Frame for Contesting a Will in Texas
In order to contest a will in Texas, a “Petition to Contest Will” must be filed with the court. This document must be filed within two years of the date of the decedent’s death. Once the petition is filed, the court will set a hearing date and notify all interested parties of the time and place of the hearing.
Due to the nature and complexity of this process, it can take anywhere from a few months to a few years to contest a will in Texas. The first step is to file a petition with the court, which will then set a hearing date. The aforementioned hearing will be held before a judge, who will decide whether or not to allow the contest. If the judge decides to allow the contest, it will then go to trial.
At the hearing, the court will consider evidence from both sides and decide whether or not the will is valid. If the court finds that the will is valid, it will be admitted to probate and the estate will be distributed according to its terms. If the court finds that the will is not valid, it will be set aside and the estate will be distributed according to Texas intestacy laws.
Payment of a Will Contest
In Texas, the person contesting a will, the contestant, is responsible for paying the costs of contesting the will, including attorney’s fees. The contestant is also responsible for any bond that may be required by the court. The executor of the estate is not responsible for these costs.
If the contestant is successful in having the will overturned, they may be reimbursed for these costs from the estate. If the contestant is unsuccessful, they will likely have to pay all of the costs out of pocket.
An interested party is someone who would be affected by the probate of the will, such as an heir or beneficiary. As previously mentioned, the will contest must be filed within a certain time frame, typically two years from the date of death. If there is no standing or if the deadline is missed, then there is no case to contest a will
Reasons to Contest a Will
The most common reasons for contesting a will are:
- Lack of Testamentary Capacity – the person who made the will (the “testator”) must have been of sound mind at the time they made the will. If they were not, then the will is invalid.
- Undue Influence – if another person coerced or manipulated the testator into making a will that benefits them disproportionately, then the will may be contested on those grounds.
- Fraud – if the testator was tricked into making a will, or if someone forged their signature on a will, then the will is invalid and can be contested.
- Improper Execution – a will must be properly signed and witnessed in order to be valid. If it is not, then it can be contested.
- Invalid Provisions – if the will contains provisions that are illegal or otherwise invalid, then those provisions can be removed from the will and the rest of the will can still be valid.
- Underage Beneficiaries – if the will leaves property to someone who was not yet 18 years old at the time the will was made, then that person may not be able to inherit under the will.
- Pretermitted Heirs – if the testator accidentally forgot to include someone in the will who they intended to benefit, then that person may be able to inherit under the will.
- Ambiguous Language – if the language of the will is unclear or ambiguous, then it may be open to interpretation by the courts.
Contesting a will in Texas can be a difficult and emotional process, but there are valid reasons it may be necessary. If there are legitimate concerns about the testator’s mental capacity, undue influence, fraud, or improper execution, the grounds exist to challenge the will’s validity.
While a will contest can divide families and deplete estates, it may also be the only way to ensure the testator’s true intentions are fulfilled and prevent the fruits of manipulation.
Do you need help with a probate matter in San Antonio or the surrounding area? We are San Antonio probate attorneys. We help clients navigate the probate process. Call today for a free confidential consultation, (210) 239-8518.
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The content of this website is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The information presented may not apply to your situation and should not be acted upon without consulting a qualified probate attorney. We encourage you to seek the advice of a competent attorney with any legal questions you may have.