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What are the legal grounds for contesting a will?

Contesting a will can be a lengthy and costly challenge as the legal reasons to do so can be very difficult to prove. Someone usually can’t challenge a will just because they’re unhappy with the terms and nearly 99% will go through probate without issues.

Maryland has strict rules on who can create a will, how it can be created and what can be included in the document. The person making the will, called the testator, must be 18 years or older and legally competent, the will must be in writing, and the testator and two credible witnesses must sign it.

The four basic legal challenges

There are four challenges available to contest a will in most states, including Maryland:

  • State law was ignored: A will can be invalidated if the testator wasn’t 18 years old, was deemed incompetent or failed to sign the document in the presence of two or more credible witnesses. Failing to sign a will in accordance with state laws is the most common reason wills are contested.
  • Lack of capacity: The testator must exhibit “testamentary capacity,” meaning he or she knows the nature and value of their assets, the parties who should logically inherit them, and understands the legal effects of signing a will. The standards vary, with some states validating wills signed by people who show signs of dementia or other physical conditions.
  • Undue influence: A will can be invalidated if it’s proven the testator suffered extreme pressure when signing it, forcing them to lose their free will in determining how to distribute their assets.
  • Fraud: Testators are tricked into signing a will, such as in instances when they are told they are signing another document, like a deed or power of attorney.

Seek legal advice in creating or contesting a will

Contesting a will can be a complicated process, especially in the absence of lies or wrongdoing by multiple people, or medical proof that the testator was incompetent at the time the document was signed. Seeking the advice of an experienced attorney here in Maryland can help sort out the complicated issues that arise over a contested will, as well as making sure all state laws are followed when putting an estate plan in place.

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