After someone has died, the assets he or she owned may be distributed by a legal process called probate. Probate involves filing the deceased person’s will in one of the sixteen probate courts located throughout Maine. This process ensures that the estate assets are distributed according to the deceased person’s wishes as they are stated in the will. But, what if someone you know has passed and you don’t feel comfortable that the distribution of assets represents the wishes of your friend or family member? One action you can take is to contest the will.
What are the grounds for challenging a will?
There are three common ways by which a will can be challenged.
The first way by which a will can be challenged is through a claim that the deceased person who made the will, or the testator, lacked what is called testamentary capacity. Testamentary capacity is another way of saying that the testator had the mental ability to understand the consequences of creating a will. We often see these kinds of challenges when the maker of the will suffered from some form of dementia. Maine law states that anyone at least 18 years of age and of sound mind may make a will. And, there have been many lawsuits and court decisions that define just how sound of mind a person must be in order to make a will in Maine.
These court decisions show that in Maine a person executing a will must be able to: 1) understand and undertake simple transactions; 2) understand the nature and extent of his or her assets; and 3) understand his or her relationship to the people receiving assets under the will. The burden of proving that the testator did not meet these requirements is on the person challenging the will. In many instances, expert witnesses, such as physicians trained in the area of dementia, are required to prove that the testator’s mental abilities were below the level to make a will.
The second way by which a will may be challenged is through a claim that the maker of the will was unduly influenced by someone with whom the testator had a close or confidential relationship. To prove that undue influence existed, the person challenging the will must establish that the testator and the person receiving the unusual benefits under the will had a relationship where the testator relied on the advice, care, or support of the other person to such a great extent that the testator was unable to make his or her own decisions or that the testator could not exert free will. Furthermore, the party challenging the will must also prove that the undue influence resulted in the person influencing the testator receiving something under the will he or she wouldn’t have received under normal circumstances. Possible signs of undue influence include isolating an elderly or sick person from his or her family and friends, and acting as a trusted financial or legal advisor.
The third way a will can be challenged is if some of the required formalities to make a will were skipped. Under Maine law, a will must be signed by the testator or signed by someone else present and directed to sign on the testator’s behalf. Two people must also witness the testator sign the will or acknowledge his or her signature. However, there are exceptions to these formalities.
Maine law recognizes a holographic will. A holographic will is a will that is handwritten by the testator. A valid holographic will must be signed by the testator and the important sections of the will must be in the testator’s own handwriting. Unlike the other two ways of challenging a will that were discussed above, it is the person seeking to validate a will that has the burden of proving a will was properly executed. While challenges of this type are rare, an improperly executed will can be invalidated.
What happens if a will is invalidated?
In Maine, will contests are conducted in one of the probate courts located in each county of the state. If the probate court determines that a will shouldn’t be used to distribute a testator’s estate, one of two things will happen next. Either a previous will that the deceased person properly executed at a time when he or she was capable may be used, or if no previous will exists, the court will determine that the deceased person died without any will at all. If the court determines that the person died without a will, Maine law determines how the deceased person’s assets will be distributed.
How do I contest a will I object to?
Contesting a will can be a complicated task and it must be done in a timely manner. These challenges become even more difficult if it involves the will of a close family member or loved one. We often hear of potential beneficiaries failing to challenge within the required time limits. Such a mistake may forever bar these beneficiaries from challenging the will at all. Presenting the proper evidence before the court that shows a testator was unduly influenced or lacked the testamentary capacity to make a will requires significant legal skill.
Our skilled attorneys can help you navigate through these legal rules and obstacles and present the best arguments when contesting a will. If you believe that a loved one’s estate is being administered in a manner that is different than he or she intended, call and speak to one of our attorneys experienced in probate litigation. You may be able to successfully challenge the will. We can offer you the advice and guidance to help you through this difficult process. Please call us at 800-660-3713 or use our free inquiry form.