A carefully prepared and valid estate plan should be able to stand up to any challenge from an unsatisfied beneficiary, supposed long-lost relative or anyone else who claims they were cheated out of their inheritance. Still, challenges do occur.
Many will or trust challenges are dubious, but there are valid reasons to question the authenticity of a loved one’s estate. California law recognizes several reasons for a probate judge to throw out a will or trust as invalid.
If you are thinking about challenging a will or trust, or if you are the executor of an estate and find yourself fending off a challenge, you need to know the reasons a trust or will can be invalidated. Here they are:
- Fraud, forgery or undue influence. This usually refers to someone intimidating or manipulating a vulnerable person into changing their estate plan to leave all or most of their assets to the other person. A will or trust is not valid if the testator did not create if of their own free will.
- Lack of testamentary capacity. Similarly, a person who lacks the mental capacity to understand what a will does and the consequences of naming heirs or beneficiaries cannot create a valid will. This could apply to someone suffering from dementia, severe mental illness or massive brain trauma.
- Outdated will. If the deceased executed a will, then replaced it with another valid will, the first will is invalid.
- Improperly signed will. In general, a will must be signed and dated by the testator in the presence of two adult witnesses. An alleged will that did not include this step is called a “holographic” will. In California, it is possible to get a holographic will accepted by the court, but it is difficult to prove its validity.
No matter which side you are on in a will or trust litigation case, you need experienced legal consul on your side to resolve the matter quickly, fairly and within the law.