You might have seen an elderly person being manipulated into changing a Will in a movie or on television, but you might not know the real details of what makes up an actual Will Contest case. This post serves as a short introduction into Undue Influence and Will Challenges.
What is a Will Contest or a Will Challenge?
The heart of a Will Challenge is the belief that an offered Will does not reflect the testator’s intent. When the challenge basis is Undue Influence, the suspicion is that a third party’s manipulation caused the Will’s change.
A Will Contest begins with a formal objection to the validity of a Will. Each state has a specific forum for filing. Specific procedural rules govern Will Challenges, and failure to follow these standards can lead to the case’s dismissal. It is of vital importance to correctly craft and file the initial Will Challenge Petition. If filed incorrectly, crucial issues might be later barred.
Proving a Will Is the Result of Undue Influence.
The judge hearing a Will Challenge case can find the Will invalid due to Undue Influence only if he or she hears the proper evidence. Your attorney will assemble this proof through depositions, interrogatories, witness interviews and subpoenaed documents. This evidence must be collected and then delivered to the judge following the Rules of Evidence. The person claiming the Will is valid will have a lawyer objecting to the submitted evidence.
The Shifting of Burden in an Undue Influence Case.
Probating a Will creates a presumption of the Will’s validity. The challenger has the burden to prove undue influence.
The process and rules differ from state-to-state, but an excellent example is the Pennsylvania Courts’ three-part test to determine whether undue influence affected a testator in creating a Will. Those challenging the Will must establish a prima facie case showing that:
1. At the Will’s execution, the testator was of weakened intellect;
2.The proponent of the Will stood in a confidential relationship with the testator;
3. The proponent of the Will received a substantial benefit under the Will.
If the person challenging the will can prove all three of these points, the burden shifts to the proponent of the Will (the person who wants the Will terms respected) to show that the Will was NOT the product of undue influence.
Contact an experienced attorney such as the Wills & Trust lawyer Allentown PA locals trust.
Thanks to Author Peter Klenk, Esq., atKlenk Law Firm for his insight into Wills & Trusts.