What You Need to Know about Contesting a Will
Contesting a will is a process that seeks to invalidate the will of a deceased individual.
A will contest is never a straightforward procedure. Only certain individuals have legal standing to contest a will, and they face a complicated set of legal procedures and strict time constraints. Furthermore, some people who have valid reasons to believe that they should contest the will are hesitant to do so for fear that other family members will perceive them as greedy or manipulative.
However, there are instances where genuine grounds to contest a will exist. In these situations, you deserve the opportunity to create a resolution that is fair for everybody involved.
Who Is Eligible to Contest a Will in Texas?
In order to contest a will, an individual or entity needs to have standing, meaning that the outcome of the will contest will directly affect them. You have standing if you are:
- A named beneficiary in the will
- A named fiduciary in the will (if you represent an entity such as a charity or a bank)
- An intestate heir (someone who is eligible to inherit from the decedent’s estate if a will was not written)
Intestate heirs are determined through a list of kin known as intestate succession. Unmarried partners, friends, or charities are not eligible to be intestate heirs.
Grounds for Contesting a Will in Texas
If you fall into one of the above categories, you are eligible to contest a will in Texas on the following grounds:
- Lack of capacity – Texas law requires that the testator (the person who made the will) have full mental capacity and competency at the time the will was created. If you can prove that the testator lacked capacity due to conditions such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, or a mental illness that incapacitated them, the will may be invalidated.
- Revocation – If you can prove that the will was revoked and a subsequent will exists, you can contest the will that has been revoked.
- Undue influence – This is when a testator was compelled or coerced to execute a will under pressure. Often this occurs under the influence of a friend, health care worker, advisor, or relative. It is also frequently the case that undue influence is applied when the testator is functioning with a diminished physical or mental capacity.
- Fraud – If a testator was defrauded into executing a will that does not represent their true wishes, the will could be contested. For example, if one beneficiary told lies about another potential beneficiary with the intention of having that person written out of the will and it worked, this would constitute fraud.
- Undue execution/lack of proper formalities – For a will to be valid in Texas, the will must be signed by the testator or by the testator’s appointed agent, who must sign it in the testator’s presence. Furthermore, two credible witnesses above the age of 14 must attest to the will and sign it in the presence of the testator. If the will is missing any of these requirements, or if it was drafted improperly, it can be contested.
- Mistake – A will can be invalidated if the testator executed it by mistake.
What Are the Time Constraints for Contesting a Will?
In Texas, you have two years to contest a will. This time starts from the date that the will was admitted to probate rather than from the date of the decedent’s death. This time limit is necessary so that the decedent’s estate can be distributed in a timely fashion.
Replacing an Executor
While many will contests focus on changing or adding beneficiaries, sometimes the key issue is the fact that the will’s executor has breached their fiduciary duty and should be replaced.
The fiduciary duties of an executor include:
- Organizing documents and taking an inventory of the decedent’s assets
- Distributing assets
- Distributing property that is not subject to probate
- Managing benefits claims (e.g., life insurance, Social Security)
If the executor has not been organized or ethical in fulfilling these duties, you can move to have them replaced.
Contact an Experienced Contested Will Attorney
If you have reason to believe that there are problems with a loved one’s will, either due to mistakes or foul play, it is important that you have legal representation on your side. The experienced Dallas contested will attorneys of Staubus and Randall have the knowledge and skill necessary to handle the complicated legal processes involved with contesting a will. We will fight for your best interests in court, and we will keep you updated with frank and clear assessments of our progress at every step of the way.
Remember that time is of the essence when contesting a will. Contact us today at 214-691-3411 for a case evaluation.