Will Contest

When someone passes away and leaves a will, the will must be submitted to the probate court so that that the appointed personal representative can settle the estate according to the terms of the will. To ensure that the will is valid and reflects the true wishes of the testator, many precautions are taken during the execution of the will. However, after the testator passes away and it is time to probate the will, if someone still feels that the will is not valid, they can initiate a specific type of estate litigation called a will contest.

Procedure for Contesting a Will Standing

Even though a will contest is the legal procedure for challenging the validity of a will, just because someone feels that a will is not valid, does not necessarily mean that that person has the legal right to challenge the will. Maine law requires that an objectant must have standing. This means that they must have a close enough connection to the matter such that the outcome of the will contest stands to impact them financially. Generally, to have standing, the person must be a beneficiary named in the will or must be an intestate heir.

Reasons for Contesting a Will

Once standing is established, the objectant must set forth legally accepted reasons for contesting the will. Family dynamics can be difficult. Anger and resentment over long-standing issues, coupled with being disappointed by the contents of the will can lead to a feeling that the will must be fraudulent. However, anger is not enough. Being dissatisfied is not enough.

For an objection to a will to withstand a motion to dismiss, the objectant must allege one of the following legal grounds as well as reasons for the allegations.

However, the law requires that while it is not unusual for someone to be surprised, hurt, or angry upon learning of the contests of a will, the court will dismiss an objection that is not based on valid legal grounds. Valid reasons include:

  • Improper execution. Maine law requires that for a will to be properly executed, there are specific requirements. The will must be writing. It also must be signed by the testator or at the direction of the testator in the testator’s conscious presence. The will must also be witnessed and signed by at least two people. ME Rev Stat §2-502. There are certain, limited situations in which a holographic (oral) will will be probated.
  • Lack of testamentary capacity. For a will to be valid, the testator must have the legal capacity to execute it. First, the testator must have been at least 18 years old at the time that they executed the will, or they must have been a legally emancipated minor. ME Rev Stat §2-501. The testator must also have been mentally sound and not have suffered from a mental incapacity.
  • Undue influence. A will must reflect the wishes of the person making the will and not someone else. Thus, if someone who is in a position of trust with respect to the testator uses that position to manipulate the testator into making a will that does not reflect the testator’s true wishes, then the will would not be valid. For example, if a person convinced the testator to leave all of their children out of the will and instead leave everything to the manipulator’s family, the will would likely be invalid on the grounds of undue influence.
  • Fraud. If a will or provisions of a will were secured fraudulently, it would not be valid. For example, if the testator’s signature was forged, the will would be fraudulent. Or, if false facts were given to the testator in order to ensure that the testator would make certain provisions in the will, the will would be fraudulent and invalid.

Outcome of a Will Contest

The purpose of a will contest is to prove that a will is invalid. A successful will contest will result in the court effectively throwing the will out and proceeding as if that will did not exist. This may mean that the decedent would be intestate, or it may mean that a prior valid will would be probated. If the decedent is determined to be intestate, the laws of intestate succession will apply for purposes of determining who qualifies to serve as personal administrator and who is entitled to inherit.

If the will contest is not successful, then the will that was objected to would be probated and the estate administered based on the terms of that will.

Penalty Clause

A penalty clause is a provision in a will designed to discourage beneficiaries from contesting the will. In some states penalty clauses are unenforceable, while in other states they are enforceable. In Maine, they are enforceable, unless there is probable cause to initiate the will contest. ME Rev Stat §2-502.

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