In the state of Texas, wills are frequently challenged in court. This often occurs when one or more heirs feel that there was some wrongdoing or error that caused them to receive less than their fair share of the deceased’s estate. As a probate attorney in Houston, Texas, it is crucial to be aware of the grounds for contesting a will to help clients navigate the complexities of the probate process. In this article, we will discuss the top 8 grounds for contesting a will in Texas and how a Houston probate attorney can assist clients during these challenging times.
What is a Will Contest
A will contest is a legal challenge to the validity of a will after the testator (the person who created the will) has passed away. The purpose of a will contest is to argue that the will does not accurately reflect the testator’s true intentions regarding the distribution of their assets, or that the will was created under improper circumstances. Will contests are typically initiated by individuals who believe they have been unfairly excluded from the will or have received a smaller share of the estate than they are entitled to.
In a will contest, the challenging party, often a family member or other potential heir, must present evidence to support their claim that the will is invalid.
Grounds for Contesting a Will
- The will was not properly executed
In Texas, a will must meet specific requirements to be considered valid. These requirements include the presence of at least two witnesses, and the testator (the person making the will) must sign the will in the presence of those witnesses. If the will was not executed according to these guidelines, it could be contested in court.
- The will was not executed with testamentary intent
Testamentary intent refers to the testator’s intention to create a legally binding document that outlines the distribution of their assets upon their death. If the testator did not possess this intention when signing the will, it could be grounds for contesting the will in court.
- Lack of testamentary capacity
To create a valid will, the testator must be of sound mind and possess the mental capacity to understand the nature and consequences of their actions. If it can be proven that the testator lacked testamentary capacity at the time the will was executed, the will may be deemed invalid.
- The will was procured by the exercise of undue influence
Undue influence occurs when a person manipulates or coerces the testator into creating a will that benefits the influencer. If it can be proven that the will was created under undue influence, it could be contested and deemed invalid.
- Fraud or duress was involved in executing or explaining the contents of the will
If the testator was deceived or coerced into signing the will or was provided with false information about the contents of the will, it could be grounds for contesting the will. Evidence of fraud or duress must be presented to invalidate the will.
- The will was forged
If the will was not genuinely created by the testator or if the signatures of the testator or witnesses were forged, the will could be deemed invalid. Contesting a will on these grounds requires presenting evidence of forgery.
- The will was revoked prior to death
If the testator revoked the will before their death, either by creating a new will or through a written or physical act, such as destroying the original will, the will may be contested. Evidence of the revocation must be provided to the court.
- The will was probated in the wrong county or state
If the will is probated in the wrong county or state, it may be contested on jurisdictional grounds. A Houston probate attorney can help clients determine the appropriate jurisdiction for probating the will and contesting it if necessary.
What Happens if the Contest is Successful?
If a will contest is successful, the court declares the contested will invalid. The consequences of an invalidated will depend on the specific circumstances and the existence of any prior valid wills. Here are some possible outcomes if a will contest is successful:
- Prior valid will takes effect: If the testator had a previous will that was valid before the contested will, the court may revert to the terms of the earlier will for the distribution of the estate. This means that the estate would be distributed according to the provisions of the previous will, rather than the invalidated will.
- Intestate succession: If there is no prior valid will or if all existing wills are invalidated, the estate will be distributed according to the intestate succession laws of the state. Intestate succession laws provide a default distribution plan for estates when there is no valid will. Typically, these laws prioritize distribution to the closest living relatives, such as a spouse, children, or parents, but the specific rules vary by jurisdiction. You can find out more about this in the articles on our website that address intestate succession in Texas.
- Partial invalidation: In some cases, only specific provisions of the will may be invalidated, while the rest of the will remains valid. This can occur when the court determines that only a portion of the will was created under improper circumstances or is otherwise invalid. In such cases, the court may uphold the valid portions of the will and apply intestate succession laws or the terms of a prior will to the invalidated provisions.
- Settlement or mediation: Sometimes, parties involved in a will contest can reach an agreement outside of court through negotiation, settlement, or mediation. In these cases, the parties agree on a distribution plan for the estate that differs from the terms of the contested will. If all parties agree to the new plan, the court may approve it and distribute the estate accordingly.
When contesting a will in Texas, if you’re successful, it is crucial for the parties involved to work with experienced probate attorneys to navigate the legal process and protect their interests in the estate. The outcome of a will contest can have a significant impact on the distribution of assets and the relationships among family members and other potential heirs.
What Happens if a Will Contest is Not Successful
If a will contest in Texas is unsuccessful, the contested will remains valid and the probate process continues as originally planned. The following events typically occur when a will contest is unsuccessful:
- Upholding the will: The court determines that the will is valid and should be upheld. The estate will be distributed according to the terms and provisions outlined in the contested will.
- Probate administration: With the will upheld, the probate process continues under the supervision of the appointed executor or personal representative. The executor is responsible for managing the estate, paying any outstanding debts and taxes, and distributing the assets to the named beneficiaries as specified in the will.
- Potential consequences for the contesting party: In some cases, the contesting party may face consequences for unsuccessfully challenging the will. For instance, if the will contains a “no-contest” clause, the individual who contested the will may lose their inheritance or a portion of it. A no-contest clause is a provision in a will that penalizes a beneficiary if they challenge the will’s validity and fail.
- Impact on relationships: An unsuccessful will contest can have lasting effects on the relationships among family members and other potential heirs, as these disputes can be emotionally charged and divisive. It is essential to carefully consider the potential consequences and consult with an experienced probate attorney before initiating a will contest.
It is crucial to remember that the outcome of a will contest depends on the specific circumstances and the evidence presented by the contesting party. If you are involved in a will contest or are considering contesting a will in Texas, it is essential to consult with an experienced probate attorney to understand your rights and the potential consequences of your actions.
If you need assistance with a probate matter in Houston or the surrounding area, Houston probate attorneys are here to help. With extensive knowledge of the probate process and the grounds for contesting a will in Texas, a probate attorney can guide clients through these complex legal matters. Call today for a free confidential consultation at 281-219-9090 to discuss your probate needs and secure the representation you deserve.
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The content of this website is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The information presented may not apply to your situation and should not be acted upon without consulting a qualified probate attorney. We encourage you to seek the advice of a competent attorney with any legal questions you may have.