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Minnesota Will Contests

To contest a will in the probate process, the petitioner or plaintiff must have standing to file a cause of action. A person has standing when he or she can demonstrate a legal interest that can be adjudicated by law.

Two groups of people can have standing to file a lawsuit to contest a will. The first group includes those who can call themselves heirs or beneficiaries of the decedent under Minnesota intestate succession laws. Automatic beneficiaries of a decedent will include his or her spouse, children, parents, and other close relatives. The second group includes persons named in the alleged last will and testament of the deceased. The document itself creates the legal interest and therefore standing to contest the will.

Grounds to Contest the Will

People contest wills for very specific reasons. The reasons listed here are not exclusive. Contact attorney Patrick Oden to help you determine whether or not you have a case.

To contest the will, the author of the will must be dead. A will is not effective until the testator has died. No beneficiaries or heirs can have standing until the will becomes effective. Assuming that the testator is dead, the will can be contested on a number of different grounds:

  • Duress
  • Fraud or forgery
  • Lack of testamentary capacity
  • Revocation or supersession of part or all of a will
  • Undue influence

The preceding, and other grounds not listed, may invalidate the will.

Duress

Sometimes people are compelled by others to act against their intentions. The person acts under duress when he or she is compelled by another person, perhaps by threat or force, to act in some manner contrary to how that person would normally act.

For example, an adult child might threaten his or her elderly parent with physical violence unless the parent rewrites his or her will such that the parent leaves his or her entire estate to the child. In such cases, it is not uncommon for the adult child to threaten his or her elderly parent with physical violence in order to ensure that his or her parent stays silent about the threats. Elderly parents, especially if they are dependent, and reliant upon the child who threatens them, often do as the threatening child asks and refrains from telling anyone else about the threats.

A will written or executed under duress should be invalid because the will needs to reflect the intent of the testator. Instead, a will written under duress reflects the intent of the wrongdoer and not that of the testator.

Fraud and Forgery

A forged will is fake and was not been written by or executed by the decedent. The will may have been created or signed by a beneficiary or heir. Or the will may have been written by a third party on behalf of an heir or beneficiary or in the third party's own interest. Presenting a fraudulent will to the Probate Court can carry criminal charges.

Destroying an executed and effective will and offering an older, revoked will instead is an example of fraud. To defraud someone is intentionally to trick or deceive someone. Any action that a court might consider dishonest can be considered fraudulent.

Both forgery and fraud can invalidate will.

Lack of Testamentary Capacity

In legal terms, competency is called capacity. If, at the time of writing or executing will, a person is considered incapacitated, then the will should be considered invalid.

To be considered competent to execute a will, a person must have the mental faculty to understand what a will is, generally of what his or her property consists, and who his or her family members are or to whom he or she wishes to devise his or her property. Competency to execute a will requires the lowest level of legal capacity. A person with capacity to make any other legal decision should have capacity to execute his or her own will.

Revocation or Supersession

A will that is not the most current execution of the document should be contested as invalid. A person who is sophisticated about estate planning will generally execute more than one will and add one or more codicils during his or her lifetime.

The superseded will is simply an earlier version of the current execution of the will. The easiest way to refute an outdated will is to provide the current execution. Wills dated later than earlier wills, even if the earlier wills are valid, as long as the later wills are valid themselves, should have no problem refuting the outdated wills.

If more than one will is produced, the will that can be validated as having been written and executed nearest to the testator's death will be the only valid will.

Undue Influence

Undue influence is similar to duress. A will written or executed under undue influence reflects the intent of the wrongdoer and not the intentions of the testator. Duress is much more clearly threats or physical violence. Undue influence may be subtle or obvious. Undue influence may be psychological domination or unconscious manipulation. Undue influence may be a product of the relationship as much as a product of the overt intention of the wrongdoer.

Subtler manipulation might be a son visiting his elderly mother less often over time. When she asks him to come around more often, he responds that if she gives him more when she dies than his siblings, then he would be more inclined to visit more often. Suppose the mother is becoming increasingly lonely, and her other children live too far away to visit regularly. The son is the only one who visits her, and he knows that she will get in to him if he leverages his visits against a greater inheritance.

If the mother in the above example changes her last will and testament because of her son’s pressure, then the other siblings may have a case for contesting the will based on undue influence. The undue influence in this case may invalidate the changes and revert validity to the prior execution of the will.

If you suspect that you should contest the will, then you should contact an attorney to discuss your case. You should not put off contacting a lawyer. You should contest the will as soon as you can during the probate process. You will not have an unlimited amount of time in which to contest the will. Minnesota attorney Patrick Oden can help you determine whether you should contest the will. Contact or call Patrick Oden at 651.210.9409 for a consultation.

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