Despite someone taking the time and making the effort to create an estate plan or a last will, the legacy they plan may wind up undermined by challenges brought through probate court, often by family members, heirs or beneficiaries.
Some people challenge estate plans out of unhappiness or surprise over the terms it includes, while others may have more reasonable cause for bringing a challenge. Whether you have received the task of administrating someone else’s estate or you have real concerns about a will left behind by a loved one, knowing the common reasons people challenge or will or estate plan could help you make more informed decisions.
Changes made later in life could mean a lack of testamentary capacity
In order for someone to legally execute a binding contract or documents, they need to meet the standard for competence. Older adults struggling with health conditions ranging from Alzheimer’s disease to dementia may no longer meet the legal requirements to make decisions on their own behalf.
A lack of testamentary capacity or a decline in cognitive function could mean that someone can no longer make legally-binding decisions for themselves. Those who create or change their estate plan during a time of cognitive decline may open their legacy to challenges in court. Even certain medications taken by the testator could undermine the likelihood of the court enforcing their wishes as written.
The influence of other people can play a role
Sometimes, the issue is not a lack of understanding or cognitive ability, but rather the influence or pressure of a third party on the contents of the will. Particularly when only one member of the family serves as a caregiver or lives with the testator, the potential exists for that person to manipulate their position for their own benefit. If you believe the terms in the last will reflect outside influence, that could be a valid reason to bring a challenge against an estate plan.
Outright fraud can also lead to estate challenges
Although likely less common than either lack of testamentary capacity or undue influence, fraud is also a reason why people challenge estate plans. Fraud could include tricking an individual into executing a form without understanding its contents or even fraudulently signing documents on someone else’s behalf.
Any of these scenarios would give rise to a credible challenge against an estate plan or last will under New York probate law.