Contesting a will in New York is an uphill battle. After all, the purpose of a will is to commemorate the wishes of a person after they are deceased. Since the person in question is no longer alive to clear up any potential conflicts, courts tend to give tremendous weight to the provisions contained in the will.
The presumption, however, that wills are impenetrable documents is not absolute. On occasion, a dead person’s decedents are able to convince a court that the will should not be enforced as written, or that it should be thrown out entirely. The reasons why someone might want a will overturned are numerous. Perhaps you have been excluded from a will when you don’t believe the deceased would have wanted you to be. Perhaps you were included, but you feel that someone else should not have been included. Whatever the case, the following common grounds can potentially lead to a successful New York will contest:
The will was not properly executed
New York state law requires that the deceased must have signed the document with a declaration that the document is to be considered his or her will. Two witnesses must have been present during the execution of a will, and both must have signed their names to the document to certify their understanding of the deceased’s intent. If any one of these standards is not met, a will contest action is likely to succeed.
The testator lacked testamentary capacity
In a will, the term “testator” is synonymous with the deceased: the person whose wishes are to be carried out. When the testator executes the document, he or she must generally be of sound mind, demonstrating adequate comprehension of what he or she is doing. In particular, the testator must understand (1) the nature and value of his or her assets, (2) the nature of the people who are to receive his or her assets, and (3) the legal effect of signing a will. If, once the testator is dead, someone contesting the will can demonstrate evidence that the testator was incapable of meeting any of these legal standards, the will contest may succeed. However, lack of testamentary capacity is a very difficult standard to prove.
The testator signed the will because of undue influence
As people age, they can naturally become physically and mentally weakened. In this weakened state, a person can become susceptible to the influence of others who have designs for the testator’s assets. Often, the line is blurry between those who seek to influence a testator for legitimate purposes and those who seek to profit from the testator’s weakened state. The standard for undue influence is one of extreme pressure that causes severe duress. The duress must be so severe as to cause the testator to lose free will in the distribution of their assets. Not surprisingly, this is a difficult standard to prove, as the testator’s stand of mind is impossible to access once they are dead, and much of the evidence of the undue influence may be one person’s word against another’s.
If you believe you have sufficient grounds to contest a will, consider consulting a New York estate lawyer, who can help evaluate the strengths and potential weaknesses of your argument. New York will contests are difficult battles, but worth fighting if you have the proper evidence and a skilled attorney.
New York Probate Attorney Jules Martin Haas, Esq. has been representing clients in Estate Planning, Probate and Estate Settlement matters throughout the past 30 years in Nassau and Suffolk and other New York Counties. If you or someone you know is involved with or has questions about a New York Last Will, Probate or Estate, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org, for an initial consultation.