Though will challenges are rare in Minnesota, they do happen. Challenges most commonly occur when the testator has amended their will late in life, or when one or more children do not receive an equal share of the inheritance. If an heir or other interested party feels sufficiently aggrieved, they have the right to challenge the validity of your will in probate court. This can draw out the process of distributing your assets and lead to lingering hurt feelings between your family members.
Two of the most common will challenges are based on testamentary capacity of the testator, and undue influence:
- Lack of testamentary capacity
To create or amend a valid will, you must have the mental capacity to understand what you are doing. If you are over 18, Minnesota law assumes that you do, but a will challenge may seek to show that you had dementia or mental illness at the time. If the court rules that you lacked testamentary capacity when you drew up your will, a judge could invalidate all or part of it.
- Undue influence
Undue influence is a legal term that refers to situations where a person manipulates or intimidates another person to the point that the latter lacks the free will to bargain with the former. In estate planning, this typically means the testator was tricked, pressured, or threatened into making changes to their estate plan. Older people can be vulnerable to this type of abuse if they are dependent on an unscrupulous relative or “friend.” If a person created or amended their will while under the undue influence of another, the will is not valid.
If a will is challenged successfully, the probate judge may rule to accept a prior version of the will. If there is no previous version, intestate law may have to be used instead, as if you had never created an estate plan.
The best way for you to avoid a complicated and emotionally fraught battle over your will after you die is to make sure your estate plan comprehensively and carefully reflects your final wishes regarding the distribution of your assets, and anticipates potential legal challenges by explaining any inequities, e.g., the reason why a potential heir has been excluded. That means taking advantage of the assistance of an attorney with substantial experience in estate planning. Providing a clear expression of your wishes pursuant to legal advice will help your heirs honor your legacy.