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What you should consider before contesting an estate plan

Sometimes, people make decisions when drafting their estate plan that they don't discuss with their family. They may want to avoid the conflict inherent in telling a child that their sibling is getting more money than them or that they're leaving the bulk of their estate to their favorite animal rescue group instead of their children and other family members. They may feel that a friend or caregiver has done more for them in their old age than any of their kids and want to reward them accordingly.

When family members find out that they've been left little or nothing after a loved one has passed away, they may suspect that something is amiss -- particularly if that loved one never talked with them about their estate plan.

If you've been completely disinherited or received only a small fraction of a loved one's assets compared to others, you may be considering contesting the estate plan in court. It's essential to understand the grounds required for such a contest. At least one of the following must have occurred:

Lack of capacity

You'll need to show that your loved one wasn't mentally capable of understanding the provisions and ramifications of the estate plan when they created or changed it, perhaps because they were suffering from dementia or impaired by drugs.

Undue influence

You would have to prove that someone pressured your loved one into leaving their assets to them rather than you and/or others they intended to have them.

Fraud

You would need to provide evidence that your loved one was tricked into leaving assets to someone else. Perhaps, for example, they thought they were signing a different document than they were.

Improper execution

You would need to show that the estate plan wasn't properly prepared or executed as required under state law.

An estate plan contest can be very costly. Therefore, it's wise to consider whether you have a valid case. Further, would the amount you'd receive if the challenge was successful be worth what it would cost you -- both in money and fractured relationships?

Of course, if someone acted illegally to try to gain assets your loved one didn't intend to leave them -- particularly if elder abuse was involved -- you may want to pursue a criminal case. It's wise to talk with an experienced attorney to determine your best course of action.

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