January 22, 2024
In Texas, like in most states, you have the right to legally contest a will if you believe it is invalid or if you were unfairly excluded from it. However, there are specific grounds for contesting a will, and you must file your challenge within a certain timeframe.
Understanding the Grounds for Contesting a Will
Contesting a will in Texas involves a thorough understanding of the legal framework that governs the validity of wills. While a will is generally presumed valid if properly executed, there are several grounds on which it can be challenged. These challenges are often based on the Texas Estates Code, which provides the legal basis for contesting a will.
Under Texas Estates Code § 251.001, a testator must have “testamentary capacity” at the time of the will’s creation. This means the testator must understand:
- The nature of the act they are undertaking (i.e., creating a will),
- The nature and approximate value of their property,
- The natural objects of their bounty (typically family members and other beneficiaries),
- The disposition they are making, and
- How these elements relate to form a coherent plan of distribution.
If a testator suffered from conditions like Alzheimer’s, dementia, or was under the influence of substances that impaired their cognitive functions, this can be grounds to legally contest. For example, in Estate of Graham, a 2002 case, the Texas court invalidated a will on the grounds that the testator lacked testamentary capacity.
Undue influence occurs when the testator is coerced, manipulated, or otherwise influenced to the extent that the will does not reflect their true intentions. The Texas Estates Code does not explicitly define undue influence, but case law provides guidance.
In Rothermel v. Duncan, the Texas Supreme Court stated that undue influence means over-persuasion, duress, force, coercion, or artful or fraudulent contrivances to such a degree that there is a destruction of free agency and willpower.
Proving undue influence can be challenging, as it often requires demonstrating a manipulative relationship between the testator and the influencer. In Kappus v. Kappus, the court found undue influence where a son, who lived with and cared for his elderly mother, isolated her from other family members and substantially benefited from her will.
A will must be executed in accordance with Texas Estates Code § 251.051, which requires it to be in writing, signed by the testator or someone at their direction, and witnessed by two credible witnesses who are at least 14 years old.
If these formalities are not followed, the will can be contested. For instance, in In re Estate of Nash, a Texas court held a will invalid because it lacked the requisite number of witnesses.
Fraud or Forgery
Fraud or forgery provides a basis for contesting a will if it can be proven that the will was either created or altered through fraudulent means. Fraud can occur when the testator is deceived about the nature or contents of the document they are signing.
Forgery typically involves the unauthorized alteration or fabrication of a will. In Estate of Gaines, a will was contested on the grounds of forgery, and the court relied on handwriting experts to determine the authenticity of the signature.
The Process of Contesting a Will
Contesting a will in Texas involves a legal process where the contesting party must file a lawsuit in a probate court. It is crucial to act promptly since Texas law typically allows a will contest to be filed legally within two years from the date the will was admitted to probate.
Hiring an Attorney
Given the complexities of probate law, seek probate attorneys in McAllen, Texas. An attorney of wills, trusts, and estates from Villeda Law Group in McAllen, Texas, can provide valuable guidance and representation.
Evidence plays a crucial role in a will contest. This can include medical records, witness testimony, and expert opinions to support the claim of incapacity, undue influence, fraud, or improper execution.
The process may involve court appearances, mediation, and potentially a trial. During this phase, both sides will present their evidence and arguments to a judge and/or jury, who will decide the final outcome.
Unparallel Legal Guidance in Will Contests: Villeda Law Group
Contesting a will in Texas is a significant legal endeavor that requires a thorough understanding of the law and a strategic approach. At Villeda Law Group, we bring a deep understanding of estate planning, wills, and trusts to the table.
Our team of lawyers in McAllen, Texas, is equipped to navigate the complexities of probate law, ensuring that your rights are protected, and your voice is heard.
If you are going to legally contest a will or need guidance on any aspect of estate planning, do not hesitate to contact us. Our probate attorneys in McAllen, Texas are committed to providing personalized and effective legal solutions. Remember, safeguarding your legacy or ensuring the respect of a loved one’s final wishes is not just a legal matter; it’s about justice and peace of mind.
Reach out to Villeda Law Group today.