When someone passes away, the personal representative named in the deceased’s will must present the will to the probate court. The probate court then appoints a personal representative to oversee the administration of the estate. Once the personal representative identifies all estate assets and pays the estate’s debts, they can transfer estate assets to those named in the will. The probate process often goes smoothly; however, that is not the case if someone contests the will. As a Michigan probate litigation attorney, I have extensive experience helping all parties to a will contest navigate the complexities these situations present.
What Are Will Contests?
A will contest is a formal challenge to the validity of a will. In Michigan, there are four ways someone can raise a will content.
Lack of Capacity
To create a valid will, the person drafting the will, known as the testator, must have the mental capacity to do so. This is called testamentary capacity. One of the most common will contests involves claiming that the testator lacked testamentary capacity when they created their will. Capacity-related will contests often arise in situations where a person who suffered from cognitive impairment shortly before their death drafted a new will that differed significantly from a previous will.
A will is invalid if the testator was coerced, misled, or unfairly pressured into creating the document. Thus, parties who feel a will doesn’t reflect the testator’s true intentions may claim that the will was the product of undue influence. When it comes to determining whether someone exerted undue influence over a testator, Michigan courts look to whether the testator was “subject to threats, misrepresentation, undue flattery, fraud, or physical or moral coercion sufficient to overpower volition, destroy free agency and impel the [testator] to act against his inclination and free will.”
A will created as a result of fraud committed against the testator is not valid. This most frequently comes up when someone tricks the testator into signing a document that, at the time, they did not know was meant to be their will.
The final basis for challenging a will is by asserting a claim that the will does not conform to the procedural requirements. In Michigan, a will must meet each of the following elements to be legally valid:
- The will must be in writing;
- The will must be signed by the testator or in the testator’s presence at their direction; and
- The will must be signed by two people who either witnessed the testator sign the will or affirm that the document was their will.
Navigating will contests can be a complex and emotional process; however, having the assistance of an experienced Michigan probate litigation attorney can make the process much easier.
Who Can Contest a Will in Michigan?
In Michigan, only those with a legal interest in the deceased’s estate have standing to contest a will. In many cases, will contests are raised by family members who were disinherited or who would have received a greater share of the estate through intestate succession. However, the following parties have standing to contest a will:
- Any heir of the deceased;
- Anyone named in a previous will; and
- A fiduciary of the deceased’s estate.
What Is a No Contest Clause?
A no contest clause is a term that may be included in a will that disinherits anyone who unsuccessfully challenges the validity of a will. While no contest clauses are not permitted in some states, Michigan law provides that no contest clauses are enforceable, provided that there was no probable cause to bring contest the will. Those dealing with a will containing a no contest clause should consult with a Michigan probate litigation attorney before initiating a will contest.
Speak with a Knowledgeable Michigan Litigation Attorney About Your Concerns Today
If you believe a loved one’s will is invalid or does not reflect their true intentions, or you are a personal representative facing a will contest, please feel free to contact me. I have more than 20 years of experience handling a wide range of Michigan trust and estate litigation matters, including will contests and trust disputes.