Articles Posted in Will Contest

When a family member or close friend is upset by the contents of a deceased person’s will, they may contest the will’s validity. The most popular argument is to claim the will is invalid because of the person’s mental incompetence or that there was undue influence exerted upon them.

In a recent Texas appellate case, the court was tasked with determining whether the deceased’s most recent will should be admitted to probate after her sons argued their mother’s dementia meant she did not have the mental competence to execute the will. Ultimately, the court ruled that the deceased could understand she was making a will, so the will was admitted to probate—meaning the court will divide the deceased’s assets according to the will.

In this case, the deceased—before her death—created several wills over the last few years, but the last will left her estate to her one son and excluded her other two sons entirely. After her death, those sons argued this will was invalid because the deceased had dementia which made her incapable of understanding she was making a new will that would invalidate the prior ones.

For many Texans, the thought of their family members fighting after their death because of the contents of their will is something they cannot bear. In many cases, this fighting can lead to a family member contesting the validity of the person’s will. One solution to this potential issue is to include a no-contest clause within a person’s Last Will and Testament. A no-contest clause provides for the disinheritance of an heir if they challenge the validity of the will. Because there are details specific to a no-contest clause, along with the ability to contest a no-contest clause, Texans should be aware of the purpose and effect of a no-contest clause before incorporating it into their estate plan.

What is a No-Contest Clause?

A no-contest clause prohibits beneficiaries of the will from challenging its terms. In the will, the no-contest clause will state that if a beneficiary contests the will and loses this challenge, the beneficiary will receive nothing. This greatly disincentives people from contesting the will if they are merely unhappy with the terms of the will. Instead, beneficiaries are likely to only challenge the will if malfeasance or manipulation occurred. However, if a beneficiary challenges the will and is successful, the no-contest clause would be voided along with the will.

While Houston estate planning may seem complicated, completing this process pays off in the long run. For individuals who start multiple wills throughout their lifetime—or have started a few drafts of wills but never completed one—a probate court battle will likely ensue after their passing. Family members may argue over which will is valid, especially if the details of the will benefit them more than another version of the will. This, unfortunately, can lead to bitterness and feuding family dynamics that are hard to overcome. Because of this, individuals should draft a comprehensive estate plan—and contact a Houston experienced estate planning attorney if they wish to make changes at a later time.

In the estate battle of legendary singer Aretha Franklin, her sons are disputing how her estate should be run—and which handwritten document is actually her will. According to a recent report, at the time of the singer’s death, her family assumed that she did not have a will. However, over the past two years, a few handwritten documents have emerged—which may represent two or three different wills—along with a few documents entitled “The Will of Aretha Franklin” that are stamped “draft” and do not include the singer’s signature. While a court has not yet decided which of these documents—if any—constitutes Franklin’s will, this will likely be a lengthy and expensive court battle.

Validity of Multiple or Holographic Wills

Individuals who are considering drafting a will should consult with a Houston attorney to ensure that their document is legally binding and effectively communicates their wishes. Wills provide representatives and loved ones with crucial guidance on how to name executors, appoint guardians for children and pets, and distribute property after someone dies. Many people fail to create wills or attempt to draft these documents themselves; however, doing so can lead to many issues and conflicts. You should contact an experienced Houston area estate planning attorney to ensure that your final wishes are properly executed.

Each state has specific requirements that a will must comply with to be legally binding. In Texas, wills are valid if the testator is at least 18-years-old, of sound mind, and there were at least two credible witnesses present at the signing. In cases where the will is oral, there must be three credible witnesses. Many Texans believe that drafting a will is sufficient to make it legally binding; however, there are often additional documents and notary signatures that must be executed. Some documents include, but are not limited to, healthcare power of attorney designations, financial power of attorney designations, and disposition of remains and property directives.

Individuals who chose to write their own wills often fail to meet all of the requirements that make a will binding. Wills should include the appropriate language, correct signatures, and account for any property or possessions that people may fight over. Although, do-it-yourself and handwritten wills might be valid, they often create challenges for loved ones as the will passes through probate court.

Computer security
With COVID-19 impacting more and more Americans, individuals across the country are scrambling to set up wills and end-of-life directives.

Over the last two weeks, online will companies have seen an explosion in users, according to the article, “Coronavirus Pandemic Triggers Rush by Americans to Make Online Wills,” published by CNBC.com.

However, as online wills grow in popularity, Houston estate and elder lawyers increasingly caution against using them, for several reasons.

2.17.20A will and a trust are separate legal documents that typically share a common goal of facilitating a unified estate plan. While these two items ideally work in tandem, since they are separate documents, they sometimes run in conflict with one another–either accidentally or intentionally.

A revocable trust, commonly called a living trust, is created during the lifetime of the grantor. This type of trust can be changed at any time, while the grantor is still alive. Because revocable trusts become operative before the will takes effect at death, the trust takes priority over the will, if there is any discrepancy between the two when it comes to assets titled in the name of the trust or that designate the trust as the beneficiary (e.g., life insurance).

A recent Investopedia article asks “What Happens When a Will and a Revocable Trust Conflict?” The article explains that a trust is a separate entity from an individual. When the grantor or creator of a revocable trust dies, the assets in the trust are not part of the decedent grantor's probate process.

10.30.19Contesting a will is not for the faint of heart, but this is the process that lets a person legally challenge a will.

When there’s a will, there’s a way to challenge it, known as a “will contest.” If someone dies and they had a will, their estate goes through the probate process. The probate court is the jurisdiction for challenging a will.

Understanding how this works is important, if you’ve been named as a beneficiary of an estate or you’re concerned that your own will may one day be contested.

9.13.19“By the time Groucho was an old man, however, he experienced significant problems in his daily activities, medical decision-making and the management of his estate. He suffered from elements of dementia, a heart attack and congestive heart failure, falls resulting in a broken hip, and after that hip was repaired, another fall and broken hip, urinary tract infections, strokes and hypertension.”

Julius Henry Marx, better known as Groucho, died 42 years ago on Aug. 19, 1977, at age 86. Groucho teamed with three of his four brothers—Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo—to become stars of vaudeville, Broadway, film, radio and television. (A fifth brother, Gummo, wasn’t part of the act).

PBS News Hours’ recent article, “How Groucho Marx fell prey to elder abuse” reports that the legal battles over Groucho’s money and possessions went on long after he died. The unrest of his last few years is familiar to adult children concerned with the well-being of their elderly parents.

7.25.19The fight over Conrad Prebys’ $1 billion estate continues, three years after the San Diego developer and philanthropist died.

When the directors of the Conrad Prebys Foundation decided to give his son Eric $15 million, despite the fact that his father had left him out of the will, Preby’s longtime partner tried to sue them.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported in the article “Court fight continues over control of $1 billion Prebys estate,” that in January, a San Diego Superior Court judge dismissed Debra Turner’s suit, holding that she had no legal standing to bring it. She then filed an amended complaint. However, the judge recently dismissed her lawsuit.

This bizarre story of an estate battle concerns a man who wanted to be driven to local pubs, a taxi driver and the passenger’s significant other.

A legal bill for an unusual estate battle must be now paid by a cabbie who had inherited a regular fare’s entire estate. The will was challenged by the man’s partner, who had been his heir, before the will was changed (over a pint in a pub) to favor the cabbie.

The New York Post’s recent article, “Cab driver slapped with massive legal fees after inheriting passenger’s estate,” explains that the bizarre story began years ago when British taxi driver Dean Hughes agreed to transport 348-pound Gary Mendez to various pubs. Many other cabbies refused to take him, because of his size.

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