Wills and trusts are often the subject of intense disputes between interested parties be they a spouse, domestic partner, children or other heirs, creditors and other possible claimants regardless of their relationship to the deceased. Frequently beneficiaries from earlier versions of wills and trusts whose interests are terminated by subsequent wills and trusts may be able to contest a will or trust. Wills and trusts can be found to have been procured by lack of capacity, fraud, or undue influence or coercion. If this is proven, the will or trust can be annulled or changed.
“Lack of capacity” refers to the document being invalid because the deceased signing the will or trust did not have the mental capacity to fully understand their actions. Fraud can be found if the deceased making the will or trust relied on a false statement or fraudulent misrepresentation. Undue influence is the allegation that the deceased was pressured into signing the will or trust by a person who benefits under the will or trust. An improperly executed, witnessed or signed will or trust can also cause for invalidating the document.
When a will or trust is contested, the probate court will investigate the claim and approval of the document will be suspended until a decision is made as to the contest. The responsibility for providing evidence that a will or trust is invalid is largely on the person bringing the contest.
Finally, a dispute between interested parties about the meaning of the document will require the probate court to interpret the language will or trust and intent of the deceased. If the court decides that the language of the document is clear, then the document will be upheld without change. If the court decides that the language is unclear, additional evidence will be taken into consideration. Language is considered ambiguous if two or more meanings can be applied. Once the court has ruled that the language is ambiguous, it will distribute the estate based on its interpretation of the intent of the will or trust.