When a petition is filed with a Minnesota probate court to submit a will for probate, if someone believes that the will should not be probated because it is invalid, they can initiate a will contest. A will contest is a type of estate litigation designed to determine whether a will is valid and should be probated. Minnesota law requires that for a will to be effective to transfer property, it must be probated. Minn. Stat. § 524.3-102
Procedure for Contesting a Will in Minnesota
Standing. To have the legal right to object to a will, the objectant must have standing. This means that they have a financial interest in the proceeding. Beneficiaries named in the will have standing because if the will is invalidated, they would lose financially. The intestate heirs of the decedent would also have legal standing, because if the will is invalidated, they would stand to benefit financially as they would inherit under the rules of intestate succession. Minn. Stat. § 524.2-101
Reasons for Contesting a Will
Sometimes when the contents of a will are revealed, there is surprise. Some may think the will is unfair. Others may be angered by it. These feelings may lead to will contests. However, under Minnesota law, surprise, feelings of unfairness, or anger are not legally sufficient reasons to challenge the validity of a will.
The objectant must have valid legal grounds. Three examples of valid legal grounds include:
- Improper execution. To help ensure that a will submitted to probate is valid, Minnesota law requires that it must be executed in a specific way. The will must be in writing. It must be signed by the testator, or the testator’s name must signed by another person at the direction of the testator, in the conscious presence of the testator. And, the will must be signed by at least two individuals, each of whom must also sign the will. Minn. Stat. § 524.2-502. If there is evidence that any of these requirements were not followed, the will could be challenged in court as invalid.
- Lack of testamentary capacity. Only those who have the legal capacity to make a will can execute a valid will. The testator must be at least 18 years old. The testator must also be “of sound mind.” Minn. Stat. § 524.2-501. This means that they must understand what it means to make a will, who their heirs are, and the extent of their estate. An example of someone who would not have testamentary capacity because they are not “of sound mind” would be someone suffering from later stages of dementia.
- Undue influence. Because a will is supposed to be a document that memorializes the wishes of the testator, if its reflects the wishes of someone else, it would not be valid. Of course, it is not unusual for relatives, friends, or even institutions to appeal to a testator to remember them in a will. This is simple influence and is legal. Influence becomes undue influence if there is manipulation involved where someone in a position of trust convinces a vulnerable testator to change their will in a way that the testator would not have otherwise.
Outcome of a Will Contest
If the objectant is successful in proving that the will is not valid, the court will more forward as if the will did not exist. This may mean that a prior valid will will be admitted to probate. Or, it may mean that the decedent would be intestate and Minnesota’s rules of intestate succession would apply. Minn. Stat. § 524.2-101. If the will contest fails, then the challenged will will be admitted to probate.
Penalty Clause for Contest
Some testators seek to prevent their beneficiaries from challenging their wills. One strategy is to include a clause in the will that penalizes anyone who objects to the will. Sometimes the penalty is for the objectant-beneficiary to be disinherited, while in other cases the penalty is for the objectant-beneficiary to lose some of their inheritance. As in many other states, in Minnesota, unless there is probable cause for challenging the will, a penalty clause is enforceable. Minn. Stat. § 524.2-517