The Basics of Contesting a Will in Massachusetts

It seems more like a plot twisted from a movie or a soap opera, but it does happen in real life: wills are contested. And sometimes they should be—there is good reason to contest a will if it is suspected that it was written under duress or otherwise meddled with.

In this article, we will provide a brief review of the who, when, why, and how of contesting a will in the Massachusetts probate process.

Who Can Contest a Will: Interested Parties

An interested person, that is, a person who has a financial or legal stake in the execution of the will, may contest a will. These interested persons may include:

  • The decedent’s spouse
  • Beneficiaries of the current will
  • Beneficiaries of another will, previous or subsequent, to the will in question
  • Legal heirs of the decedent
  • Creditors of the decedent’s estate

Why to Contest a Will: The Reasons

The basic reasons to contest a will are these: that the testator (person who wrote the will) made the will under some sort of duress; the testator made the will when not of sound mind; that the will was not properly executed to be legally binding; and that the will is the product of outright fraud.

Making a will under duress, or when subject to ‘undue influence’ can include circumstances in which the testator was hounded by another person into making or changing a will, particularly when the testator’s health was poor or the testator’s relationship with that other person was one that could be used to manipulate the testator.

A will may have been made when the testator was not of sound mind, or ‘lacked capacity,’ if it was drawn up or signed when the testator had cognitive decline, was not fully conscious, or was otherwise not well enough to understand what he or she is doing.
A will may not be legally binding if it was improperly executed—not signed, witnessed, or notarized.

And of course, if a will seems suspicious, because it appears vastly different to earlier wills or bears a signature that looks nothing like the decedent’s, fraud is also a grounds for contesting a will.

When to Contest a Will: Statute of Limitations

When the probate court receives a will, all the heirs are notified and a notice is published in the papers. Someone wishing to contest a will only has thirty days from this notification to file an affidavit of objection regarding the will.

How to Contest a Will: You Need Trusted Legal Advice

Operating within this very tight timeframe, it is essential that there should be no procedural issues with the affidavit of objection and that the reasons for contesting the will are clearly stated, evidenced, and in accordance with the legal standards laid out above. These are very high standards for non-attorneys to meet; with stakes this high, you need trusted legal representation with extensive probate experience, such as one of our attorneys.

If you are considering contesting a will, or have questions regarding other probate issues, call our law office today to get the answers you need.

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