If your loved one has passed away after being financially exploited or manipulated because of declining health or mental acuity, the result can be an unexpected disposition of the decedent’s legacy. Many people die with a will that is produced by a new spouse, adult child, friend, or other caretaker that substantially benefits the party who produces the will, while conflicting with the long stated intentions of the family member who has died. Although those who believe that the will was the product of coercion, pressure or outright forgery can elect to challenge the document in a New Mexico Probate Court, there are a few key facts that the aggrieved family member may benefit from knowing before taking such a step. .
What constitutes a legal basis for challenging the validity of a will?
While there are a number of legal grounds for contesting the terms of a will, they largely fall into three categories. One basis for challenging a will focuses on the decedent’s mental capacity when drafting the will. Another group of legal grounds for contesting a will focuses on the conduct of the party who benefits from the will while the third type of challenges involves deficiencies in the formal execution of the will. Each of these types of justifications for contesting a will are discussed in more detail below.
Lack of Capacity:
A will is not valid if the person who created the will lacked “testamentary capacity” at the time the will was prepared. This type of challenge will typically be based on medical evidence that the decedent was mentally impaired such that he or she did not understand the nature and extent of the assets in the estate or the identity of his or her blood relatives. This legal basis for challenging the validity of a will also applies if the party who prepared the will was not old enough to draft a will under state law.
Fraud, Forgery or Mistake:
While these legal grounds differ, they are similar in that they often involve an attempt to deceive the court and other potential beneficiaries about the decedent’s intentions. The party submitting the will for probate may attempt to add a page to the will that includes favorable gifts to the individual who produced the will. In other cases, a party may fabricate a will and forge the signature in an attempt to dupe the probate court.
Lack of Formalities:
Every state imposes specific formal requirements for a will to be enforceable. Depending on the state, there may be specific language that must be included or requirements regarding the will being properly witnessed. When these requirements are not satisfied, this may constitute a basis for challenging the will.
Like fraud or forgery, this type of will contest focuses on the misconduct of someone close to the decedent. Unlike those defenses that involve a document that was not prepared or executed by the decedent, this defense may be raised when all of the terms of the will were included at the direction of the decedent who personally signed the document. When a personal caretaker or family member exerts inappropriate influence or pressure on the decedent, this may result in a more favorable disposition for the person caring for the senior. A common example might include a parent who leaves a disproportionate share of his or her estate to an adult child with whom the senior is living to the detriment of the senior’s other children. The court will be more inclined to find that the will was a product of undue influence in this situation if it contradicts prior versions and was hidden from the other siblings.
Do I need a New Mexico Probate Law Firm to represent me if I plan to challenge the terms of a will?
If an individual is considering contesting a will in New Mexico, there are a couple of important reasons that it is advisable to seek legal advice. First, there may be negative consequences associated with initiating a legal challenge if the will has a “no contest clause.” This type of provision essentially provides that if a party challenges the terms of the will and loses, the party must forfeit some or all of any inheritance granted in the will. The second reason to speak to a New Mexico Contested Will Attorney is that defenses like undue influence, fraud, and lack of capacity are fact intensive inquiries that can be difficult to prove in court. An experienced New Mexico Probate Lawyer will have insight into how to uncover such evidence and persuasively present the evidence in a New Mexico Probate Court.
The above information is provided to illustrate general principles of law and should not be interpreted as a specific legal opinion on an individual case. You should contact experienced legal counsel to get specific legal advice that is based upon your specific circumstances.
If you are considering contesting a New Mexico will, the experienced New Mexico Probate Attorneys at Jay Goodman & Associates, PC offer a free consultation in our centrally located offices in Santa Fe and Albuquerque so that we can discuss your situation. Call us today to schedule your free consultation at (505) 989-8117 to learn about your rights and options.