The Livens Law Firm

Will contest results in rejection of will presented for probate

Probate of a will in Texas may lead to a will contest when the will is challenged by those who believe that they have a better right to collect from the decedent's estate. A will contest is often based on a claim of undue influence, which asserts that the beneficiary took advantage of a position of power over the person to get that individual to consent to disposing of property in a way that was not a product of a free exercise of his or her own will. The presentation of the will for probate is the appropriate time to challenge its validity.

If the person has dementia at the time of the making of the will, it is not absolutely certain that the will does not reflect largely the person's intentions. That is because people with dementia are known to have lucid periods. Therefore, where a prima facie showing of undue influence is made, the one who is supporting the probate of the will must prove that there was no undue influence.

This obviously then boils down to credibility and circumstantial proof of the surrounding circumstances. If there are numerous witnesses to say that the maker of the will was aware of her surroundings, and knew basically what she was doing at that time, then the validity of the will may be harder to challenge. In a dispute in another state, a defending police officer had to rebut the presumption of undue influence over a will-maker who was 93 years old in 2012 when she made a will leaving him $2.7 million. 

That had the effect of ruling out an earlier 2009 will and the beneficiaries listed in it. The Probate Court judge sided with the earlier will and its beneficiaries, and threw out the 2012 will favoring the police officer. However, the beneficiaries of the 2012 will are predictably now fighting amongst each other for a larger piece of the pie. However, the best outcome at this point is for the beneficiaries to resolve their disputes and present a mutually agreeable distribution agreement to the court. The same general principles would apply to a will dispute and probate battle based in Texas. 

Source: unionleader.com, "Battle over Portsmouth woman's estate continues", Kimberley Haas, Jan. 21, 2016

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