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WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A WILL IS CONTESTED?

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By Lane V. Erickson, Idaho Estate Planning Attorney

Having been an estate planning and probate attorney in Idaho for over 20 years, one of the most common questions that comes up with clients is what happens when a will is contested? This question comes up in different circumstances and for different reasons. Sometimes this question comes up because my clients are creating their own estate plan and they are worried that one of their family members may try to contest their last will and testament after they pass away. Alternatively, this question sometimes comes up with clients who want to contest the will of a family member who has passed away. It either of these is sought the legal process would be the same.

To explain what would likely occur in the instance of a will contest being made, I often refer to what has been come known as the Eggan’s estate case. This is a case that was decided by the Idaho Supreme on November 1, 1963. [For those of you who have a legal penchant the citation is 86 Idaho 328, or 386 P.2d 563.]

In this particular case there was a contest of a will that had been signed by the decedent. The Idaho Supreme Court issued several statements of law in this case that still exist in Idaho that deal with a will contest. It’s for this reason that this citation and this case is being listed in this article.

Presumption that a Will is Valid

Whenever a will is challenged in a legal setting, the first thing that happens is that there is a presumption that the will is valid so long as it meets all the basic requirements under Idaho law. This would require that the will be signed, that it be properly witnessed, and usually that it be notarized as well. When this occurs, a court looking at the last will and testament, will presume that it is valid because all of the formalities have been met. The other reason for the presumption that a will is valid is that Idaho law requires Courts to carry out the specific intent of the individual who creates the will. As a result, if a will looks valid on its face, a court will begin with the presumption that the will is valid.

When a will is presumed valid, there really are only two ways that it can then be determined to be invalid by a court. The first is that evidence is presented to the court that the person who signed the will was not competent. In other words, the person did not understand what it was they were doing. The other way is for evidence to be presented to the Court that the person was unduly influenced or coerced by others into signing the will when they really didn’t want to.

Was the Person Competent

Under the first question of whether the person was competent the court will simply look to whether the individual understood their own circumstances, what they were doing and what it was the document stated. The type of evidence that can be provided to a court to establish the lack of competence would include witness testimony, as well as testimony from doctors or other healthcare providers who personally observed the individual either do or say things showing incompetence. Without this type of evidence, the person who signed the will will always be deemed to be competent.

Was their Undue Influence

The next question of whether there was any undue influence or coercion involved in the signing of the will is handled in a similar way. Because of valid will is signed by two witnesses, the testimony from these witnesses about whether the individual was being coerced by others would be valid. As a result, any individual claiming undue influence or coercion would have to provide specific evidence showing that it existed. Without this type of evidence, the presumption that there was no undue influence will exist and the last will and testament will be considered valid and enforceable.

If you are concerned about whether someone is going to contest your will, or if you have questions about contesting the will of a loved one who has passed away, we are confident that we can help you.

ENLIST AN ESTATE PLANNING ATTORNEY TO HELP YOU

If you have any questions about your estate or how to simplify your plans for your family and loved ones, we can help.  Call us toll free at 877-232-6101 or 208-232-6101 for a consultation with Lane Erickson and the Racine Olson team of Estate Planning attorneys in Idaho. You can also email Lane Erickson directly at lane@racineolson.com. We will answer your questions and will help you solve your Idaho Estate Planning problems.

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