Experienced Representation For Minnesota Will Contests
It boggles the mind when a wealthy celebrity such as Minnesota’s own Prince dies without a last will and testament. It took six years to settle the court battles over his $150 million estate.
But the presence of a will does not guarantee smooth sailing. Sibling rivalries boil over. An unknown heir surfaces. Rumors and angry accusations fly. Family members are compelled to choose sides. Soon, the courts are involved just as if there had not been a will.
Are there concerns about the will?
I am Clay Taylor, a trial lawyer with decades of experience in probate and estate disputes. Estate planning attorneys routinely refer cases to me, including contested wills. I also welcome direct inquiries from heirs, excluded heirs and executors. I can gauge where you stand and what your legal remedies may be.
When Can A Will Be Contested?
There are various scenarios in which a person’s will might be challenged:
- Lack of testamentary capacity – Was the person “of sound mind and body” at the time the will was drafted, or was their mental state compromised by dementia or mental illness? Did they understand what they were signing?
- Technical deficiencies – A will must be signed by the testator (or their authorized proxy) and witnessed by at least two individuals, ideally people who are not in line to inherit. A will can be invalidated if it was not properly executed.
- Undue influence – Suspicions arise when a family member or caregiver has gotten close to a person whose health is failing, especially if that person stands to gain from a recently revised will. The standard of proof is high. People can and do freely change their wills, rewarding those who cared for them in their later years.
- Fraud or forgery – Some people will go to extreme measures, forging signatures or altering the content of an existing will. Fraud can also mean tricking the person into signing documents or deeding over assets.
- Spousal statutory elective share – Under Minnesota law, it is almost impossible to disinherit a spouse. The wife or husband is entitled to a mandatory share based upon the length of the marriage. After 15 years, a spouse inherits a minimum of 50 percent, unless that spouse waives their elective share.
- Holographic wills – Minnesota courts generally will not recognize a hand-written will, even if it was signed and witnessed. However, a holographic will recorded in a state that allows them might be upheld in Minnesota.
- Codicils – People do not necessarily tear up their old will. They update their existing will through a codicil (addendum), such as naming a new executor, adding new assets or changing a beneficiary. Codicils can be challenged on the same grounds as the main will.
- Interpretation – Any provision of the will that is ambiguous is subject to legal challenge.
- Misappropriation – Family heirlooms and valuable assets often go missing, taken out of greed, a sense of entitlement or a long-ago promise that was never put to paper. Misappropriated assets that were listed in the will can be recovered through court action.
Allegations Of Breach Of Fiduciary Duty
Aside from the will itself, the person appointed to settle the estate may be accused of fraud, collusion or misappropriation that serves their own interests, or they may simply be accused of incompetence or dereliction of their appointed duties.
I have frequently been hired to defend the personal representative (executor) against allegations of breach of fiduciary or to fight attempts by disgruntled family members to have them relieved of duty and replaced. Having served as a personal representative myself three different times within my own family, I understand the pressures you face, as well as the indignity and stress of being accused of wrongdoing when you are just trying to do a tough and thankless job. You can count on me to stand by you through your ordeal.
What Happens If A Will Is Successfully Challenged?
A court could partially uphold the will but strike specific portions. The court could invalidate the most recent will or codicil and revert to the immediate prior version of the will. If no prior will exists, the estate would be divided according to the Minnesota laws of intestacy. In other words, the stakes are very high, and it is wise to consult legal counsel.
Can This Be Resolved Out Of Court?
Probate is already a long, slow process. A will contest assures that it will drag out far longer, perhaps several years. The costs of litigation will eat into any expected inheritance – if you even win in court. Suing a relative also can create long-term rifts in the extended family.
Every situation is unique. It may indeed be necessary to go to court to preserve your inheritance or uphold the intentions of the deceased. But I always encourage clients to be open to a less confrontational path forward. There may be a novel solution or a compromise you can live with. Sometimes an outside perspective is needed to break the impasse. Sometimes the parties simply need a cooling-off period before they can make a “business decision” about these emotionally charged matters.
I’m all for keeping the family peace, but my first allegiance is to the best interests of my client. I will give you my honest assessment of your legal position and the risk-reward of litigation. The Law Office of D. Clay Taylor handles estate-related disputes in the Twin Cities and throughout Minnesota. Call my Edina office at 612-355-8793 to discuss your predicament, or reach out online.