Probate is the process during which the will of a decedent is validated. Once a will is validated, it is entered into probate and the estate administration process begins. In Washington, D.C., the Superior Court has jurisdiction over probate matters and serves as the probate court. D.C. Code Ann. § 18-101. Legal issues related to probate and estate matters are handled by the probate court, including will contests. A will contest is a dispute that develops when there are allegations that the will submitted to the court for probate is not a valid will. Because a will contest is a type of litigation and can be complex, contact an experienced Washington, D.C. will contest lawyer to discuss your concerns.
Grounds for Will Contests
A court will dismiss a motion to contest a will if it does not allege legally sufficient grounds. The most common reasons that wills are contested are allegations of lack of testamentary capacity, undue influence, and improper execution.
- Lack of testamentary capacity. A person must have the ability to understand what they are doing when they make a will and have the legal ability to enter into a contract. If they don’t, then they would not have testamentary capacity and the will would be invalid. Washington, D. C. law refers to this as having a sound and disposing mind. D.C. Code Ann. § 18-102. In addition, the testator must have been at least 18 years old. When someone makes an allegation of a lack of testamentary capacity, typically they argue that the testator suffers from dementia or some other type of cognitive impairment. To prevail, the contesting party much produce medical evidence or eyewitness testimony of the testator’s mental condition at or around the time the will was executed. Note that a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or other type of dementia is not necessarily dispositive.
- Undue influence. A claim of undue influence involves an allegation that someone improperly influenced a testator to make a will that they would not have otherwise made. The will benefitted the influencer and not the people that would be the logical beneficiaries. Generally, to show undue influence, the contesting party must show that the accused had a confidential relationship with a vulnerable testator, that the accused substantially benefitted from the will, and that the will is inconsistent with the testator’s past estate plans. Under influence is difficult to provide. Bringing in an experienced Washington, D.C. lawyer is essential.
- Improper execution. Washington, D.C. law requires that for a will to be valid it must be in writing and executed in a very specific way. During the “execution ceremony,” the will must be signed by the testator or at the direction of and in the presence of the testator. In addition, the will must also be signed by at least credible 2 witnesses. D.C. Code Ann. § 18-103
Legal Standing for Contesting a Will in Washington, D.C.
There are many people who might believe that will is invalid and might be tempted to contested. However, as an experienced will contest attorney in Washington, D.C. will explain, in order for a court to entertain a will contest, the contesting party must have legal standing. This means that the contesting party must be more than a friend or a relative. The person must have an interest in the matter because they are a beneficiary of the contested will, a beneficiary of a prior will, or heir.
Consequences of Will Contests
A will contest can have a significant impact on the estate administration process. If the will contest is successful, then the those entitled to distributions from the estate may change. If the will contest is successful and the court determines that the decedent is intestate, the assets will be distributed based on Washington, D.C.’s rules of intestate succession. D.C. Code Ann. § 20-301 et seq. To learn more about the consequences of a will contest, contact an experienced will contest attorney serving Washington, D.C.