There’s an expression that says the wheels of justice turn slowly. Anyone who has ever been involved in a lawsuit can tell you this is true. And it applies to probate litigation as well.
If you are the executor of a loved one’s estate and your sister or other relative is threatening to challenge the validity of the will, you should prepare for a long struggle. A will challenge in a Minnesota probate court can take a year or longer to resolve. An heir (or someone excluded from inheriting anything from the estate) filing a will challenge essentially halts the probate process. Very little can proceed until the parties resolve their differences or the matter goes to trial.
What can they say is wrong with the will?
Will contests often come down to one of three claims:
- Undue influence. This refers to cases where the testator (the person who wrote the will) was subject to intense pressure or manipulation from someone else to make that person the primary (or sole) heir. People who are frail or mentally infirm and reliant on someone else for daily care can be vulnerable to this type of influence.
- Fraud. Another claim that can invalidate a will is fraud. The testator could have been misled about the will’s contents before signing it, or someone could have forged the deceased’s signature on the document.
- Lack of testamentary capacity. For a will to be legally sound, the testator must have been mentally able to understand its terms and the consequences of signing it when they did so. A testator who was suffering from dementia, drunk or high, or dealing with severe mental illness may have lacked testamentary capacity, which would invalidate the will.
Determining whether one of these claims actually occurred is complicated. Both sides need to gather evidence through discovery, as well as depositions of the parties involved and expert witnesses. Not only can this take a long time to complete, it can also cost the estate a lot of money in legal fees.
Often, the executor and the will challenger can settle out of court. But if not, the case will go to trial in probate court. That means waiting for a court date. If the judge rules that the will is invalid, they will revert to a previous version. Or if there is no prior will, Minnesota intestacy laws will determine the heirs and what they receive.
You don’t have to do it by yourself
Being the executor is a way of honoring the deceased, but it can also be a difficult job. Fortunately, you can work with a probate attorney for advice, procedural help and representation in court if necessary.