If you’ve recently suffered the loss of a loved one, you don’t need to be reminded of how difficult dealing with such a tragedy can be and how significantly it can impact your life. Depending on how close you were to the deceased, the emotional turmoil may seem overwhelming. Yet, as hard as it may be to believe, things may actually get worse before they get better. The emotional and mental strain that results from losing someone you love are often exacerbated by issues that arise once everyone starts dealing with the assets of the estate and how they are to be distributed.
To be more specific, the will of the deceased may become the cause for friction, conflict, sometimes even the complete breakdown of one or more relationships. Disputes among beneficiaries (or those who think they should be) are often very messy. If you believe you might become embroiled in one of those, you should seriously consider hiring a will contest attorney in Bergen County.
When Do You Need a Will Contest Attorney?
When someone makes a will, he or she does so with the intention of providing for friends and loved ones upon the will-maker’s death. The will of the deceased, also referred to as the decedent, testator (male) or testatrix (female) specifically identifies those intended to be beneficiaries and details the property (personal included) to be disposed of by the will and to whom that property goes.
At the end of the day, estate assets should be distributed in accordance with the decedent’s express wishes as confirmed by the will’s language. Often, however, issues regarding the formality of the will itself or the decedent’s wishes present themselves. When that happens, it is no longer possible for the will to go through a speedy probate proceeding.
Probate is the process whereby a court oversees the distribution and final accounting of an estate. It is often fairly simple and straightforward. If you and the other beneficiaries have no objections to the will and it appears to be valid on its face, you can expect distribution of the estate to occur in a fairly straightforward manner and a relatively short period of time.
If, however, any of the other beneficiaries have some reason to doubt the validity of the document or believe it doesn’t accurately reflect the intent of the testator or testatrix, looking into hiring a will contest attorney in Bergen County is wise. If you object to the will, hiring a will contest attorney in Bergen County is essential.
Why Do You Want to Challenge the Will?
The first thing that a will contest attorney in Bergen County will need to know is why you want to challenge the will. Simply feeling that the will is somehow unfair to you is not a good enough reason. No lawyer will take your case on that basis alone. You can challenge a will if facts exist to indicate that:
- You have a connection to the testator/testatrix. The connection should be such that a court could justifiably rule that you had a reasonable expectation to be named in the will or that the will should have provided you with a greater distribution from the estate.
- You suffered some harm, either because you were left less than might reasonably have been expected or because you have been written out of the will altogether.
- At the time the will was executed the testator/testatrix lacked “testamentary capacity.” In other words, was the person of a sound mind such that he or she understood what the purpose of the will was, had knowledge of all things to be distributed under the will and could identify all beneficiaries the will named?
- The will was improperly drafted or executed. The document referred to as a Last Will and Testament must meet certain requirements. Otherwise, it may be deemed invalid, no matter how accurately and completely it conveys the intent of the person who made the will.
- Fraud was perpetrated on the will-maker.
- There was a mistake in the will that clearly doesn’t represent the intent of the decedent. If the testator and his widow had one male child, for example, and the will left the residual of the estate to their daughter, this is obviously a mistake and doesn’t reflect what the testator intended (assuming there isn’t a daughter from another relationship).
- A party with an interest in the estate (or who represents someone with such an interest) exercised improper influence on the testator/testatrix at the time the will was written. You’ve probably heard stories about some scheming, lying relative convincing a dying mother or father to write a sibling out of the will. Although those situations rarely occur, they or situations similar to them do happen. If you believe that you are in some way the victim of this type of scenario, you will definitely want to discuss it with a will contest attorney in Bergen County to see if you have a case with merit.
Should You Contest the Will At All?
If, after a discussion with a will contest attorney in Bergen County the two of you agree that sufficient grounds exist to file a challenge to the will, you need to address one more issue before proceeding: Should you contest the will? This is actually more complicated than it appears for the following two reasons:
- As we discussed above, an estate battle can cause hurt feelings, create disagreements and even divide a family, sometimes irreparably. Is the result you want worth the potential damage it may cause to the family dynamic? Thinking “they’ll get over it” is not necessarily a solid basis for potentially antagonizing family members or other loved ones.
- Assuming the answer is yes, however, there is one more question to be answered by you and your will contest attorney in Bergen County: Whether the will contains a “No Contest” clause.
- This type of clause, sometimes called an in terrorem clause, essentially states that if you contest the will and the court ultimately determines it is valid, you will lose any and all bequests the will provided.
- A will contest attorney in Bergen County will ensure that you completely understand this issue because challenging a will with a No Contest clause is a big gamble if you are a named beneficiary. If, however, you have been completely written out of the will, you will probably have nothing to lose by contesting it.