Many estates go through probate because the deceased person didn’t leave a last will, had major debts or expensive personal property. However, some families wind up going through probate even though there is a detailed estate plan that accounts for all major concerns.
Family members may disagree with how the executor handled the estate or with the instructions provided in the estate plan. Many people feel an unearned sense of entitlement to the property left behind when someone dies.
However, family members or expected beneficiaries generally need to have a good reason to bring a challenge against an estate in probate court. The three reasons below are among the most common causes of probate challenges.
Claims the deceased lacked testamentary capacity
Someone can only create legally binding documents when they are of sound mind and body in the eyes of the law. Those with certain medical conditions or who have experienced cognitive decline due to age may lack the testamentary capacity necessary to create a valid last will or estate plan.
The older someone is or the worse their medical condition is at the time that they create or update their estate plan, the more likely it is that claims about their testamentary capacity could gain traction in probate court.
Allegations of estate fraud
When there are questions about the authenticity of the estate planning documents or the signatures on them, family members might allege fraud. Examples of estate fraud include modifying documents after someone signs them, tricking someone into signing a document without disclosing the contents or even completely falsifying the documents and the signatures to use fake documents to replace an existing last will.
Concerns about undue influence
The terms set in an estate plan should reflect the true wishes of the testator, not everyone else’s expectations or desires. Family members ranging from spouses to children who serve as caregivers may pressure aging loved ones to try to force them to change their last will for personal benefit. Family members who suspect such undue influence may be able to challenge the last will.