When someone dies in Texas, their will explains what should happen to their property and who will take care of their children. Given that a significant number of people die without a will at all, learning that your loved one had the foresight to plan for their death may be a relief.
However, your relief may be short-lived if there is a dispute among family members regarding the validity of the will. Someone may decide to challenge or contest the will, resulting in probate litigation. What happens when someone contests a will in Texas probate court?
They must have grounds for the challenge
To convince the courts to toss out an existing estate plan or revert to earlier versions of the documents, the person filing the claim typically needs compelling legal grounds. They need to believe that there is something wrong with the document or the circumstances in which the testator created it.
Undue influence, meaning that a third-party coerced or threatened someone into changing their documents, is a common ground for will contests. Lack of testamentary capacity claims involves someone alleging that the older adult no longer met the legal requirements to create a binding document.
Fraud allegations might stem from someone thinking that a family member made changes to the documents or tricked the testator into signing them. Finally, people can also challenge it will if the rules or instructions included within it contradict Texas or federal probate law.
The courts must review the case carefully
Just standing up and claiming that someone didn’t have the capacity to create a legally-binding document won’t be enough to invalidate the will. Instead, the person bringing the challenge will need to present evidence supporting their claims.
In civil proceedings, they need only show that a preponderance of the evidence supports their claim rather than proving it beyond a reasonable doubt. Those who believe the estate plan is accurate and enforceable will also have the opportunity to present their perspective on the situation to the courts. A judge will then evaluate the evidence and rule based on their perception of the circumstances.
What is the possible outcome of a will contest?
What the courts decree will play a big role in the impact that a will challenge has on an estate. If the courts agree with the person challenging the estate, then they might change what happens to the testator’s property.
If the courts do not agree, there will likely still be consequences. The estate may have to absorb thousands of dollars in costs defending against the claims. In rare cases where someone included a no-contest clause, a contest in probate court might result in that person losing their inheritance.
Learning more about what happens during probate litigation can help those questioning a will or trying to administer an estate.