Probate is a process that can be as emotionally driven as any other area of law that deals with interpersonal relationships. Hurt feelings can become the catalyst behind feeling the need to contest a will. Causing equal urgency can be the belief that some wrongdoing has occurred with the intent to defraud heirs to an estate.
Invalidating a will is serious business given the ramifications. You are saying to the probate court that your family member’s last wishes should be ignored and that the judge should allow you to override them, so you need to be certain that your reasoning is sound before taking that step. Even if you are, there are certain qualifications under probate law that must be met to succeed.
How do I contest a will in Tennessee?
Under Tennessee law, an action to invalidate a will must be brought within two years from the date the order admitting the will to probate is entered.
You must have standing. To have standing means that you have a right to bring business before the court. To qualify you must have a connection to the allegation in that you already have, or will sustain a direct injury that can be prevented or resolved as a result of the harm accused.
You need to have proper grounds to contest. This means that you have a legitimate legal reason that the court has the authority to consider when deciding whether a will may be invalidated.
Who has standing to contest a will in Tennessee?
Any named beneficiary has standing to contest a last will and testament. Additionally, In Re: Estate of J. Don Brock, determined that parties may establish standing to contest a will by showing that they would be entitled to share in the decedent’s estate if the challenged will were to be set aside or never existed, which triggers inheritance under the laws of intestacy.
In other words, a biological child of the family member who passed away, and who was not mentioned in the will could have a right to initiate an action to invalidate the will. This can often be the result of an estranged or unknown adult child coming forward and claiming inheritance rights and siblings refusing to entertain the idea.
In what situations would you want to contest a will?
If you believe some kind of fraudulent behavior was involved in the execution of the will or the distribution of the estate assets, you could be right. Some of the methods that could be used as legal justification for invalidating the will include failing certain statutory requirements such as:
- Improper execution. A will must be made in writing and be signed by two witnesses in front of the testator/testatrix (person making the will). The testator/testatrix must also be at least 18 years of age and of sound mind when he or she signs the will. If any of these requirements hasn’t been met, the will may not be valid under the law.
- Lack of testamentary capacity. This means that the testator/testatrix has the mental wherewithal to understand the nature and effect of signing the will, and the extent of his or her property that is he or she is seeking to dispose of. The language used in Tennessee to describe testamentary capacity is “of sound mind and disposing memory.” The fact that someone no longer has the ability to make legal decisions for themselves does not automatically make their will invalid.
- Undue influence. You can improperly influence someone executing a will that results in someone receiving property they otherwise wouldn’t have been entitled to. Undue influence can include anything from putting pressure on an individual that places him or her in fear, to manipulation by taking advantage of his/her slipping mental capacity.
Even more egregious are those who prey on vulnerable or incapacitated adults by cultivating a special relationship with the intent of profiting through a will. While these can often be family members, it can also be a caretaker or other individual who finds an opportunity to garner a close connection with their victim.
Proving that undue influence existed typically relies on witnesses and documentation that may exist showing how the relationship developed and the control exerted over the decedent. Even healthcare providers who have detailed records as to the physical and mental condition of your loved one.
Contesting a will is stressful but sometimes necessary to protect your inheritance rights, or to protect the rights of your deceased family member who shouldn’t be robbed of having his or her last say. If you believe you need legal guidance due to an unexpected estate issue, the Maryville probate attorneys at
Shepherd & Long, P.C. are here to help you honor the memory of your loved one by making things right. Our client-focused legal team assists grieving families across East Tennessee. To schedule your free consultation, please call our Maryville probate lawyers at 865-982-8060, or we invite you to complete our contact form.