Not everyone is always happy with the terms of a will. Soon after someone dies, family members and close contacts can be very emotional and become very unhappy with how the deceased’s state is handled, and the way the assets are distributed. But disagreeing with the provisions of a will is not a sufficient reason to legally challenge the validity of the will.
When someone dies and leaves a will saying how they want their estate settled, this information is usually public knowledge because it is filed with the court. The person who wants to contest the will must have “standing” with the court, meaning the provisions of the will impact them personally. Family members, friends or business associates who know and dispute the contents of a will or estate document – or someone who does not have access to the document itself but believes that the content of the document is inadmissible – can challenge that the will is invalid. Legally challenging a will in court is called contesting the will.
In Illinois, anyone who has standing or is affected by a will can contest that it is a legally valid will within 6 months after it is filed in probate court. This could be heirs, family members, spouse or ex-spouse, or someone with a business relationship to the estate. If the court determines the person does have standing, their case can move forward.
The validity of a will can be contested on different legal grounds, including but not limited to:
1. Undue Influence
If someone forced, coerced or persuaded the deceased to write the will or distribute their assets in a certain way, different from how the deceased would have on their own, this can be grounds to contest the will. For example, someone who has a conflict of interest with prospective heirs to an estate could influence the person to change their will and change who the beneficiaries are or what they receive.
2. Fraud or Forgery
A will can be contested and declared invalid if the will was improperly executed. For example, if a will was not signed or a signature was forged or provisions were secretly added, the will can be declared invalid if it does not meet the legal requirements where it was executed.
3. Lack of Testamentary Capacity
The testator is the person who made the will. If the testator is unhealthy mentally or physically and this impacted their judgment, it can be determined that the deceased did not have the ability to execute a will. For example, if a person suffering from dementia makes a new will that is significantly different than a previous will, someone with standing might want to contest the will and say the testator was mentally unable to make rational decisions.
Contesting a will can be a difficult and sometimes costly legal process. If you believe a will is invalid and that you have standing, consulting an experienced probate, trust and estates attorney in Chicago or Lombard can give you advice and discuss your legal options. Contact the Estate & Probate Legal Group at 630-800-0112.