In Delaware, there are procedures through which an interested party in an estate is eligible to challenge the validity of a will. This is critical because the will, once accepted to probate determines the guidelines for which someone’s assets will be distributed according to their wishes. Some beneficiaries might believe that a previous version of the will is the accurate one to be submitted or that the one that has been submitted was coerced or created due to undue influence. This is known as a will contest or a contested will.
How Does a Will Contest Claim Impact Probate in Delaware?
One of the most challenging aspects of this are the additional fees and time it can take to probate an estate when a contested will claim arises. Any executor who is party to serving as a personal representative on an estate will need to be prepared to have the process slowed down while it is investigated whether or not the will is indeed valid. The provisions related to the duties and responsibilities of an executor in Delaware are enumerated in Delaware’s Decedents’ Estates and Fiduciary Relations Law, 12 DE Code § 1301 et seq. In some cases the person who created the will may purposefully leave people out of the will who might otherwise anticipate getting a big portion of the testator’s estate.
Children and spouses are some examples. This can lead them to assume, even if it is not accurate, that the will was some kind of a mistake This does not mean that any person can challenge the validity of a will on any grounds. In fact, there are only specific circumstances where a person can trigger a will contest. Retaining a will contest attorney in Delaware can help you as a beneficiary to determine if you have sufficient grounds to move forward with such a claim. This is no decision that you should rush into because it can permanently destroy or even alter family relationships. There are many different reasons that a court in the county in Delaware in which the decedent passed away could invalidate a will.
Some of the legal reasons for this include the mental capacity of the person making the will or the will being obtained through duress. A person must have appropriate mental capacity to understand what they are doing in creating a will. If the testator was mentally unstable or intoxicated at the time that the will was created, however, a person challenging the validity of the will could be successful in court. Wills also cannot be proven as legally valid if they were obtained during duress.
Duress, however, is very challenging to prove after the fact and this issue might not come up for years after it occurred, making it even more difficult to prove. If the named beneficiary is someone who coerced the will testator to update the will and alter it to leave a substantial portion of the estate to this beneficiary, this can raise concerns for all other family members.
When Is a Will Contest Claim Successful?
If a contest is successful, a Delaware county court may find either part of the will or the entire will valid. This can raise questions about how property distribution will occur when a valid will does not exist. Every state, including Delaware, has laws that address this situation typically passing on the property inside the estate to the next living kin. Because of the complex factors involved in this, it is recommended that you retain an attorney whether you are a beneficiary affected by the possibility of a will ruled invalid or the person initiating the will contest. Typically when the will is ruled invalid, intestate laws will allow the estate to go to the spouse first. If there is no living spouse, this will go on to the children. If there are no children, it will go on the decedent’s parents. Typically, most people will at least one relative who is entitled to inherit even when the original will is ruled invalid.
Make sure that you equip yourself with the knowledge and clear understanding of what is involved in a will contest. This can be a very time consuming process and one that is difficult to handle in the context of your overall family.