The passing of a loved one is an extremely difficult time for families. Not only are emotions running high, but all of a sudden it seems that you have to deal with a huge number of tasks – organizing the funeral, coordinating the burial and eventually, distributing assets and wrapping up affairs.
For thousands of families every year, this process is further complicated by will contests or other estate disputes. Because of the complicated legal procedures and emotions involved, this single event can do more damage to family harmony than any other kind of family feud.
1. Speak To A Professional
Consulting with an experienced, trustworthy attorney who handles estate planning or Probate litigation is absolutely critical before going ahead with a will or estate dispute. Will disputes can wreak havoc on family relations, and can be drawn out for years. An experienced estate lawyer will be best able to advise you what your choices are, and whether contesting the will is worthwhile.
The goal of an experienced lawyer is to evaluate the matter to determine whether the case can be peacefully settled or mediated outside of the courts wherever possible. Having someone on your side with an in depth knowledge of the law, and the desire for the best outcome for all parties is essential.
2. You Must Be Eligible to Dispute the Will
Before you can dispute a will, you must be eligible to challenge it. An estate attorney can help you identify if you are eligible to challenge a will. Only an interested party can dispute a will. An interested party is someone who would be set to lose or gain something if the will is carried out.
While spouses are most frequently the parties who contest the will, even a parent, child or other relative can be eligible to challenge a will.
3. There Should Be Grounds for Dispute
In order to evaluate whether your will dispute has any chance of being successful, your lawyer should help you determine whether there is evidence of grounds for disputing the will.
The reasons to challenge a will most often fall into two categories: cases where the deceased was possibly under the influence from outside sources forcing them to change their will; or cases where the deceased was not of sound mind when they composed the will.
4. Ask: Is There An Alternative?
Choosing to informally resolve any will disputes outside of the courts is always preferable. Only 0.5%-3% of U.S. wills are contested each year, and of these only a very small minority are won. It’s much more worthwhile discussing your options with an experienced lawyer before you decide to contest a will, in order to evaluate your case, and see if there is an alternative to taking the dispute to court.
Managing will disputes in a calm and professional manner with the guidance of an experienced lawyer, is the surest way to avoid nasty family feuds, and ensure the best outcome for all parties involved.