Inheritance disputes are less common than a lot of people assume, and only a small fraction of wills are contested. One reason for this is the potential cost. If the estate is small, the financial advantage of contesting a will could be negligible.
Estimates show that between 70% and 80% of households receive no inheritance. Half of households that are recipients of an estate only receive an average inheritance of $9,700.
However, if you are one of the fortunate few who can expect a valuable inheritance, there might be a chance of a probate dispute.
As a firm of inheritance attorneys, we’re versed in the intricacies of probate disputes. Continue reading to find out the different grounds on which a will can be disputed.
Inheritance Dispute Based on Doubtful Mental Capacity
To make a will, the testator needs to be sound of mind. If there is a doubt as to their requisite mental capacity at the time they drew up the will, a dispute may arise.
For example, if an elderly relative who is living with dementia draws up a will, family members and potential beneficiaries may question its validity. The testator may not have understood the value of their assets and been able to state their true wishes.
In these types of cases, medical records play a key role in building a body of evidence.
Knowledge and Approval
If there is proof that the testator didn’t understand what was in the will or agree with its provisions, this can also be grounds to contest probate. These are known as knowledge and approval disputes.
One of the most common misconceptions about the probate process is that debts disappear at death.
If the deceased passed away with debts to their name, creditors can claim against the estate. These claims don’t overturn the existing will; instead, they aim to collect from the assets in the estate during probate before these assets are distributed to any heirs.
Inheritance Dispute Regarding Forgery and Fraud
If there is evidence of foul play in the form of forgery, this is grounds for a probate dispute. For handwritten wills, forgery could mean the entire will is forged or just the signature.
Fraudulent actions that alter the intentions of the testator are another possible reason for probate disputes. For instance, if a family member tampers with the will for their own benefit, this is fraud.
There are certain circumstances where beneficiaries may become disqualified from a will. Unlawful actions that brought about or contributed to the testator’s death disqualify beneficiaries. These include murder or any complicit actions that willingly contributed to the deceased’s passing.
Rights of Family Members and Dependents
If a testator does not make adequate provision for any dependents in their will, there is a possibility that it might be contested. Here in Florida, there are various state laws that determine who can dispute a will on these grounds.
For instance, Florida has an elective share probate law that allows surviving spouses to claim a certain percentage of the estate, even if their deceased spouse tried to disinherit them. Florida also has certain laws around homestead protection that safeguard spousal rights to the primary family home.
Dependents, like disabled adults or minor children, can also make claims against an estate if it does not adequately address their support and maintenance.
Propriety estoppel is a form of inheritance dispute that can arise if the testator promised to bequeath certain assets to a beneficiary but omitted to include provisions for this in their will. For this type of probate dispute to go through, the party has to provide proof of the promise and show that they have:
- Relied on the assurance
- Suffered measurable detriment as a result of this reliance
Detriment can include financial losses, lost opportunities, measurable effort, or a significant change in circumstances. Furthermore, the court must determine whether it is truly unfair for the estate to break the promised bequest.
For instance, if a testator has led a family member to believe they will inherit the family business, this could cause the family member to forgo other career opportunities and make various life decisions in preparation to take over the enterprise.
Should the testator go back on this promise, it could cause measurable detriment.
Rectification of an Error
If a will contains a clerical mistake, you will need to seek rectification. Rectification is pursued in situations where there’s evidence that the will doesn’t accurately reflect the testator’s wishes or intentions because of the error or because of a misunderstanding during the drawing up of the will.
Even if a will is executed incorrectly, it can still be valid under the Uniform Probate Code (UPC) if the error is harmless.
If there is evidence to show that the testator’s final wishes were unduly influenced by an interested party, this can be another set of grounds for dispute. In other words, if they were pressured, manipulated, or convinced to draw up their will in a certain way, and claimants can prove this, the will may be overturned.
In a case of undue influence, claimants typically need to prove the testator’s vulnerability to influence. Vulnerability factors could include old age, sickness, dependence, etc.
Other Causes for an Inheritance Dispute
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the different types of probate disputes. Other potential grounds for probate dispute include:
- Mutual wills where wishes aren’t honored
- Opposals to grants or letters of administration
- Will revocation
- Trust disputes
- Solicitor claims
- Personal representative disputes
- Presumed death
Want of due execution is another cause of probate dispute. To put it simply, this applies when the will isn’t drawn up according to legal formalities, i.e., it’s not in writing or wasn’t signed by witnesses.
Are You Looking for a Team of Experienced Probate Attorneys to Handle Your Inheritance Dispute?
There are a variety of grounds for probate disputes. Some of the most common include undue influence, want of due execution, creditor claims, and doubtful capacity.
A lot can hinge on a probate dispute, and you need to ensure you have a team of experienced inheritance attorneys on your side. Boyer Law Firm specializes in estate planning and probate disputes.
Get in touch to request a free case evaluation for your probate dispute.