Can you prevent someone from challenging your will?
Estate planning doesn’t always go according to plan. Sometimes beneficiaries end up not receiving their assets. Often, beneficiaries lose out because the estate planning wasn’t done properly, but sometimes another family member contests the decedent’s will.
For the most part, a will is a legally binding contract that determines the beneficiaries of a person’s assets. While a will is legally binding, it’s possible for other people to contest the contents of a will.
Why do wills get contested?
According to Chesapeake Wills and Trusts, there are 5 main reasons people contest a will:
- The decedent had a more recent will
- The will was signed involuntarily
- The decedent didn’t have legal capacity to sign the will
- The will wasn’t signed in front of two witnesses
- The will was signed under mental impairment or duress
Don’t want your will contested? While there are no guarantees, these tips will mitigate the potential of someone contesting your will.
Make certain your will is legal and clear
A piece of paper stating who you want your assets to go to when you pass doesn’t qualify as a legal will. In some cases, a hand-written document might be honored as a “holographic will” if there are no complex circumstances surrounding the estate, but that’s unlikely.
For a will to be considered legal, certain qualifications must be met. Although the laws vary by state, a will is generally only legal when it’s signed in front of two witnesses and notarized. In addition to requiring notarization, beneficiaries can’t be witnesses and oral wills are generally only legal when a person is on his or her deathbed.
For a will to be considered legal, the body of a will must clearly state the full names of the intended beneficiaries. If anyone is to be specifically excluded, that must also be included. A will must also contain the name of the will’s executor along with an alternative executor. If you have minor children, your will should name a guardian for them.
Don’t make a video will unless you already have a written will
Making a video will seems like it would be the most efficient way to create a will. After all, video is hard to fake. However, a video will isn’t considered valid in most states.
You can use a video will to supplement a written will, but it’s best to keep the entire will in writing to eliminate confusion and potential discrepancies. While the discrepancies may not make a difference legally, they could cause someone to become upset and contest your will.
Consult an attorney to get help drafting your will
It’s possible to create a simple will online without a lawyer’s help. Many websites offer free and cheap templates for creating your will according to state laws. However, some of these templates may not be up-to-date or accurate. Also, if your estate situation is complex, a basic will might not be enough for you to distribute your assets according to your wishes.
Make sure your executor knows where your will is kept
If nobody can find your will, people you’ve written out of your will might end up with your assets rather than your named beneficiaries.
Make sure your executor knows where your will is kept and let them know about any trusts you have as well. Your executor should know everything about your will, your trusts, and every aspect of estate planning you’ve done. When you pass, they’ll need to handle all of your affairs related to your estate and the more information they have, the better.
Don’t assume your will won’t be contested
While it’s true that contesting a will requires filing a lawsuit that can be time-consuming and costly, don’t assume that will prevent your will from being contested – it won’t. Some people get extremely protective over assets and are willing to fight and spend money, even if it means losing more money in the process.
A legal will is crucial if you want your beneficiaries to get your assets
If you want your beneficiaries to get the assets intended for them, you need the counsel of a good estate planning lawyer. As a side benefit, in some states, the lawyer who drafted your will can be one of your witnesses.
Just like doing taxes, if your situation is complex, a professional is your best option. Don’t risk having your will contested. Get a lawyer to draft your will.
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