Maryland/D.C. Estate Litigation: Can I Contest a Last Will and Testament?

man reading a last will and testament and is upset

If there are sufficient legal grounds, any Maryland/D.C. Last Will & Testament (“Will”) can be challenged in a Will contest. This involves filing a written petition or request with the relevant probate court — generally, the local county probate court where the decedent lived before passing. In this article, the Maryland and D.C. trust and estate planning lawyers at The Law Offices of Thomas Stahl discuss some of the basics of contesting a Will.

What is a Will contest?

In basic terms, a Will contest is a proceeding that challenges the entirety of a Will or challenges some particular aspect of the Will. The former might involve claiming that the Will is invalid and unenforceable. The latter might challenge the validity of a given bequest or claim that a certain bequest was promised to the person bringing the Will contest proceeding.

Who can contest a Will?

The first legal issue is the matter of WHO can contest a Will. Not just anyone has the right to bring a lawsuit or a Will contest. Legally, this is called the concept of “Standing.” To be allowed to sue, a person must have “Standing.” Generally, this means that the person has some legitimate interest in the matter.

For a Will contest, this means:

  • An heir
  • Family member
  • Creditor
  • A person listed in the current Will
  • A person who was listed in an old Will
  • Someone who was promised by the decedent to be included in the Will
  • Any other person with some other identifiable and provable claim to something from the decedent’s Estate.

Types of legal challenges that often brought

As noted, many Will contests in Maryland challenge the legal validity of the Will. Under the laws of both Maryland and the District of Columbia, to be valid and enforceable, a Will must be made by a person who is mentally competent, and the Will must be executed appropriately. This generally means that the Will-maker must sign the Will in the presence of at least two witnesses who can confirm the maker’s mental capacity. From this, then, there are a number of potential legal theories that can be brought, including:

  • Lack of capacity — this could involve showing that the maker had dementia or some other mental incapacity, making them unable to execute a Will.
  • Duress — this could mean that someone was forcing or coercing the maker to execute a Will; threats might be proven, such as the withholding of health care, as one example.
  • Undue influence — this could mean that someone — a family member, a caregiver, etc. — had mental and emotional control over the maker; an example might be a new paramour.
  • Improper execution of a final Will — as noted, generally, a Will must be signed by the maker in the presence of two witnesses; if this did not happen, then the Will could be challenged
  • And more

These same legal theories can be used to challenge a particular aspect of a Will.

There are some typical signs that might suggest that you should consider a Will contest. One typical sign is that, towards the end of a maker’s life, a new Will was executed with significant changes. The closer those changes were made to the decedent’s date of death, the more closely the new Will should be examined. Other signs include the addition of new and, maybe, strange persons to the Will, dispossessing family members for no apparent reason, etc. Another warning sign involves significant changes that another person makes via a Power of Attorney.

Maryland and D.C. Trust and Estate Planning Attorneys

If you are thinking about whether it is time to make a trust or if you need estate planning documents drafted, contact the Maryland and D.C. trust and estate planning attorneys at The Law Offices of Thomas Stahl. We have the experience and expertise you need. Schedule a consultation today or call us at (410) 696-4326 or (202) 964-7280. We have offices in Columbia, MD, and Washington, DC.

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