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Do I Need a Lawyer to Contest a Will?

When a loved one passes away, managing the grief you experience afterward can be extremely difficult. In addition to handling your emotional response, you may also be faced with practical and legal steps that need to be taken. One of those is probating the decedent’s Last Will and Testament. The terms of that Will provide a roadmap for the distribution of thedivorce attorney decedent’s assets. If you have reason to believe that the Will submitted for probate is not valid, however, you may decide to contest the Will. A Murfreesboro Wills lawyer at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby offers a basic overview of the Will contest process and discusses the need for an attorney if you choose to contest a Will.

The Probate Process

Probate is the legal process that typically follows the death of an individual. Probate is intended to serve several functions, including the authentication of a Last Will and Testament submitted to the court. If the Will is authenticated, the terms of that document will then be used to determine how the decedent’s estate assets are distributed. If someone believes that the Will submitted to probate is not valid, the process that follows is referred to as “contesting the Will.”

Contesting a Will in Tennessee

Given the important nature of probate, and the value we all place on an individual’s right to decide how his/her assets are distributed after death, contesting a Will is a serious legal process. It is not a decision that should be entered into lightly. Moreover, certain conditions must be met for you to be legally entitled to contest a Will, such as:

  • You must have “standing.”  Standing refers to the legal right to bring a legal. In this case it refers to a Will contest. To have standing to initiate a Will contest in Tennessee you must show that you would be entitled to a share of the decedent’s estate if the Will in question were to be set aside. Usually, this includes beneficiaries under the Will submitted to the court, beneficiaries under a previous Will, legal heirs of the estate, and sometimes creditors of the estate. 
  • You must initiate the Will contest within the allowable time frame.  Tennessee Code  § 32-4-108 sets forth the applicable statute of limitations for contesting a Will within the state, allowing two years from the entry of the order of probate. Although you have up to two years to contest a Will, the sooner you do so the better.
  • You must have legal grounds on which to contest the Will.  Simply being unhappy with the inheritance you received (or failed to receive) does not provide a legal reason to contest a Will in Tennessee. For your Will contest to move forward in court, you must allege (and ultimately prove) one of the following legal grounds upon which the Will could be declared invalid: 
  • Improper execution
  • Lack of capacity
  • Undue influence

Do I Need a Lawyer for a Will Contest?

As is the case in almost all types of litigation, there is no legal requirement that you retain the services of an attorney if you decide to challenge a Will. A Will contest, however, is often a complex and lengthy legal process that is best undertaken with the assistance and guidance of an experienced attorney. The court will begin the presumption that the Will submitted to court is valid, meaning the burden will be on you to prove otherwise. Proving that a decedent lacked testamentary capacity or that he/she was subject to undue influence is frequently difficult. For example, a decedent who was suffering from dementia would not automatically lack capacity to execute a Will. He/she may have had moments of clarity during which the Will was executed. Likewise, the fact that an individual appeared to have significant influence over the Testator at the time the Will was executed may not be enough to prove undue influence.

Contact a Murfreesboro Wills Lawyer

If you are contemplating a Will contest in Tennessee, it is important that you consult with an experienced Murfreesboro Wills lawyer to discuss your legal options. Contact the team at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby as soon as possible by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your free appointment.

Dinah Michael