Imagine this: Your beloved aunt just passed away and promised to leave you her extensive jewelry collection. However, the Will does not say anything about this. What can you possibly do?
Getting left out of your loved one’s Will is certainly a distressing situation, and it is one that happens to people more often than you might think.
There are some steps that you can take, but here’s an upfront warning — it won’t be easy, and you need to act quickly. Most will not think twice in hiring an estate litigation lawyer but if you’re on a tight budget or you just want to do it without spending a small fortune on hiring a lawyer, you can follow these tips below.
Knowing How to Contest a Will Without a Lawyer
Take the following factors into consideration, as they will help you learn how to contest a Will without a lawyer present to assist you.
As you read this, bear in mind that many Will contests involve having to prove the mental capacity of the person who died, who from here on out will be referred to by the legal term ‘decedent.’
Snag Copies of the Current and Previous Wills
First and foremost, get copies of the current and (if any) previous Wills. You can get these from the executor, who should have already noted any major changes that were made.
Executors will typically send you a notice if you have been removed from the Will, but if you did not receive any notice, you can get a copy from the probate court once the Will goes there. You can find out from them how much time you have left to contest the Will.
Remember, every state has a different timeline for contesting wills. If you find out you do not have much time left, you might want to consider hiring a lawyer to speed up your process.
Was the Decedent of Sound Mind?
Testators (the people who craft their Wills when they anticipate dying) are required to be of “sound mind” when they draft their Wills. This means that they must meet certain requirements.
- Know what they own, including bank accounts and liabilities
- Know who is getting those assets and if there were any exceptions
- Know who will normally be provided for in the Will, such as a spouse and children
- Know that a Will is a legally binding document
For a Will to be invalidated, there has to be a good degree of certainty that the testator did not have full awareness of what their Will entailed. This can be proven by medical records from the testator’s doctor who, for example, can medically prove that this person suffered from the later stages of dementia.
Archaic language does still get used in Wills, so there is always the possibility that a testator did not understand tricky legal jargon.
The testator is not required to know exactly what this language means so long as they get the general gist of what is in the Will and the power it possesses.
Was There Undue Influence?
Do you suspect that someone else coerced your loved one into leaving you out of their Will? If so, you will have to prove this with a few factors in mind that the judge will want to see.
The existence of a confidential relationship. In other words, this person would have been a caretaker who could have used this relationship to place pressure on the testator while forming the Will. This person can be a relative or non-relative.
The person in the confidential relationship with the testator stood to benefit from an unusual distribution of the Will.
There was an unusual distribution of the Will. When a family member who would normally be included or if a friend or relative of the testator gets a lot more than is typically expected, this sets off a red flag. If a personal caretaker is included but immediate family members are excluded, this is an even bigger red flag.
In most cases, it is easy to show evidence that someone benefitted a lot more than what is normally expected. If a person abused the trust of the testator, this will be more challenging to prove.
If you want to know how to contest a will without a lawyer, you need to have undeniable proof that the testator was being manipulated.
Does the Will Meet the State’s Formalities?
While each state has its own set of formalities, there are some common stipulations. In most cases, the formalities include the following:
- The Will must have witnesses
- The Will must be dated in order to be valid
- The testator must be 18 or older unless the individual was legally emancipated
Some states differ on the validity of handwritten Wills. If they are not witnessed, they might still be valid depending on the state. Also, take note that Wills need not be notarized.
Is it Time to Lawyer Up?
One of the things you need to bear in mind is that you cannot simply claim something based on a verbal promise or one that was written outside the confines of a Will.
This will be immediately tossed out by a judge. Wills written using online Will writing services are entirely legal if they are properly signed and witnessed.
It is vital to assess whether you can successfully do it without a lawyer. If you do not have enough proof of coercion or are working on a tight deadline, getting legal aid from an estate litigation lawyer might be necessary.
However, it is entirely possible to challenge the Will on your own given that you have enough time to gather your evidence together and prove that you were supposed to be entitled to something that was left out of your loved one’s Will.
To learn more to help you during this journey, head to the News section of this site.