Wills are contested more often than you might imagine. This is why it is so important to have an experienced Maryland estate planning attorney design and implement your will and other crucial legal documents.
Let’s begin with a quick definition. When a person “contests” a will, he or she is asking the court to decide if the will is valid. The process is known as a caveat proceeding, and in Maryland it is handled by the Orphan’s Court.
Not just anyone is permitted to contest a will under Maryland law, only an “interested party” may do so. An interested party is either a person named as a beneficiary in the will or a person who would have inherited something if the decedent had passed away intestate (that is, without a will).
In addition, there must be a legitimate, legally binding reason for the court to invalidate a will. Being left out of the will or receiving less than one anticipated are not legally valid reasons.
The first legitimate reason to contest a will is that the document itself fails to meet Maryland’s legal requirements. The will must be in writing, and it must be signed by the testator (the person for whom the will was created) or by another person on the testator’s behalf, with the testator’s permission and in his or her presence. The will must also be signed by at least two witnesses, once again in the testator’s presence. (It is worth noting that some in-person witness requirements have changed since the onset of the pandemic). Furthermore, the testator must be 18 or older and legally competent when the will is signed.
Other grounds for legitimately contesting a will include:
Incompetence. The testator was mentally impaired when the will was created. Examples of mental impairment can include Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, delusions, and more.
Undue Influence. This involves another person having so much influence over the testator that the will reflects the wishes of the influencer rather than the testator.
Duress. This differs from undue influence in that a threat was used to force the testator to create the will or its terms.
Fraud or Forgery. In these situations, the testator was either deceived by someone or the will itself was entirely fabricated.
Multiple Wills. An older will might be invalidated by a newer one.
As you can see, a will can be vulnerable to a number of threats. For a robust, properly designed will, call the Law Offices of Clifford M. Cohen at (202) 895-2799 to schedule a meeting. We can meet in-person at our office or virtually via Zoom and other platforms.