When legal actions are initiated to contest wills in Texas and around the country, the plaintiff must prove that the will is defective in some way. This sometimes happens when a testator writes a new and radically different will shortly before they die. To overturn such a will, the interested party must convince the court that the testator was not in sound mind when they signed the new will, the new will is a forgery or the new will was signed under duress or deception.
Only individuals the court considers interested parties can contest a will. Interested parties are the testator’s heirs and any beneficiaries mentioned in the will. Only relatives who would have inherited property if the testator had died without leaving a will are considered heirs and may contest a will even if they are not beneficiaries. Relatives the law considers heirs include spouses, children, parents and grandparents. Individuals who are not related to the testator can only initiate a will contest if they are named as beneficiaries.
Will contests are more common when estates are valuable and multiple spouses or children from more than one marriage stand to inherit. In these situations, testators may include no-contest clauses in their wills to deter beneficiaries from initiating probate litigation. These clauses state that any party who contests the will inherits nothing if their action is unsuccessful. Many states have prohibited or restricted no-contest clauses, but they are usually enforceable under Texas law.
Avoiding will contests
Will contests may be avoided if beneficiaries know what to expect and understand the thinking behind the testator’s decisions. Revisiting estate planning documents like wills, trusts and powers of attorney on a regular basis and making appropriate changes is another good way to reduce the likelihood of probate litigation.