The good news is, the presumption is that a will is valid. It’s up to the will contestant to prove that the will is invalid. When making a will, any possibilities of a will contest should be discussed with the attorney drafting the will to avoid a will contest later. A testator may want to include a no-contest provision in a will that says if a beneficiary contests the will, they must forfeit their entire inheritance. It is also a good idea for a testator to briefly discuss their intentions with their children or other families so that they know what they may be inheriting and to avoid conflicts amongst family after they pass away.
Otherwise, the executor of a New York decedent’s estate could be left with having to defend the estate against a will contest proceeding initiated by an unhappy heir, beneficiary or interested party to the estate and creating extra legal costs and time delays in winding up and settling the estate.
What is necessary to Defend Will Contests
To be successful in defending against the claim, the executor would require the assistance of a qualified and experienced New York estate attorney. A solid story would need to be presented as to why the will is this way. Also, if there was a confidential relationship between the decedent and the person benefiting from the will, the will is going to be harder to defend. The executor will need to prove that there was no undue influence, coercion, fraud or forgery involving the person receiving the benefits under the decedent’s will.
This may be done by presenting written evidence such as letters from the decedent expressing intentions and wishes regarding leaving a particular beneficiary assets, or oral testimony by witnesses such as the decedent’s physician testifying that the decedent was of sound mind at the time the decedent made the will or a handwriting expert who can verify the decedent’s signature on the will was authentic and not a forgery.
Defense Example 1:
For example, let’s say that decedent had a long-term live-in relationship with a significant other and decided to leave that person a substantial portion of the decedent’s estate instead of leaving it to his children. When the decedent passes away, the children get together and decide to contest the will. Unless they can prove that the parent was mentally incompetent at the time the parent made the will, was under undue influence, duress or fraud, or the parent’s signature was a forgery, they would have a hard time convincing the court that the will was invalid.
Defense Example 2:
So let’s say that the decedent changed his will leaving the bulk of his estate to a woman 20 years younger that he had been dating for a couple months and intentionally omitted his children from inheriting any of the estate assets. The decedent’s children could challenge the validity of the decedent’s will based upon the fact that the decedent may have been under duress, coerced or there was fraud when the decedent made the will. If they win, then the original would be considered valid, and the decedent’s children would be entitled to their rightful inheritance.
Getting a New York Estate Attorney to Defend the Will
Since defending a will contest is complicated, it is recommended that you seek the assistance of a New York probate and estate attorney to represent you in the matter. If you wish to speak to a New York estate attorney, call the Law Offices of Albert Gurevich at (212) 233-1233.