One of the last things that anybody wants to experience following the death of a loved one is an argument between family members or a legal battle over that loved one’s will or estate. Unfortunately, many deaths are followed by just this type of upsetting behavior. If the circumstances are right, then your loved one’s will may be contested.
When somebody passes away and leaves behind a will, they had expected that will to be followed. It may be important to contest or challenge a will when there is something fishy about it, as this can prevent fraud or some trickery from being pulled. But a will cannot just be contested without some solid reasoning.
Today, we are going to look in-depth at this whole process. We will start by discussing what it means to contest a will. This may seem straightforward, but it helps to ensure that we’re all on the same page moving forward. Then we’ll look at what legal standing is necessary to contest a will in Iowa. Finally, we’ll discuss what you should expect when a will is contested.
What Does it Mean to Contest a Will?
While “contesting a will” may sound like some kind of legal battle, it’s a little bit simpler than that. When you contest a will, you are arguing that the will is not valid. Say that your dad spent years promising you that you would inherit his fancy 1970s muscle car. You’ve been looking forward to it nearly all your life.
But then it comes time to dole out the inheritance following his passing, only the car isn’t mentioned, or it goes to somebody else. You think about it and don’t recall anything resembling a falling out, so it gets your suspicions up. Your only options are to speak to the individual or family members that did inherit the car to see if you can strike up some kind of deal or contest the will.
To contest the will, you must be an interested party. This means that you were a party that stood to lose or gain property, assets, or something of value through the will. In the example of wills we’re working from, you would be an interested party.
To contest the will, you first file a complaint with the probate court. The executor of the estate is notified and given the opportunity to defend the will at a trial. Both parties argue their side before a probate judge, who is then tasked with determining the verdict.
If the will is considered to be valid, then the estate distribution will continue according to the will. If the will is not valid, then certain assets will be distributed according to intestate law. How much of an estate’s assets are distributed in this manner will depend on how much of the will was declared invalid.
In order to contest a will, however, Iowa law requires there to be appropriate legal grounds for contesting. Let’s turn our attention to these next.
What are Grounds for Contesting a Will?
There are several grounds for contesting a will in Iowa. However, two of these legal standings are far more common than the rest combined: undue influence on wills and lack of testamentary capacity. While we’ll discuss other grounds besides these two, they are far and away the most common.
- Lack of Testamentary Capacity: A person cannot make a will if they do not have the mental capacity to do so. To have the mental capacity to create a will, an individual needs to know that a will is being made, understand the extent of their property, identify and remember the individuals they want to give property to, and understand what it means to distribute their property.
- Undue Influence: A will that is created because of undue influence can be contested. This means that the person who wrote the will did so because another person had undue influence over them. Meaning that somebody had dominance over the person writing the will. This could be due to threats of physical harm, mental manipulation, or other forms of duress.
- Fraud: When a person signs their will, it is assumed that they understand what they are signing. If somebody is tricked into providing a signature for a will, then that will is not valid.
- Forgery: If a signature was forged on a will, it means that the individual who passed away did not actually sign the will in question. This doesn’t happen very often, but if it does, it is absolutely legal grounds to contest a will.
- Failure to Follow Will Execution Formalities: When putting together a will, you must abide by several formalities in order for the will to be considered valid. These include things like having two witnesses to the signing of the will, for example. Without following these, you don’t have a valid will.
What Should You Expect When Contesting a Will?
When you file a complaint with the probate court, the executor of the will is notified. This allows them an opportunity to defend the will that is being contested. This happens at a probate court, which means that it is often a legal battle in the classical sense.
When you contest a will, you should be prepared for a fight. This isn’t always the case, as sometimes an executor will agree that something seems off about a will. But most of the time, there are arguments for and against the will in a traditional courtroom setting. This means that you should be prepared to present evidence for your argument, as well as expect the opposition lawyer to try to counter that evidence with their own.
Should I Work with an Attorney?
If you are looking to contest a will, an attorney should be one of the first people you contact. Contesting or challenging a will is ultimately a form of legal action, and that means that an attorney can be of great help. They can help you to gather evidence, document it, file your complaint, present your evidence to the probate court, and the like.
Similarly, an attorney may prove to be useful for those who are looking to create or defend a will. Evidence can be gathered to defend the will, and a great litigator understands how to knock down a faulty argument as the opposition may make.