Most Tennessee residents assume that when they have signed their will, it will be enforced as they have written it. Unfortunately, potential heirs may think that they were cheated somehow and that the will signed by a parent or uncle or other treats them unfairly. The only remedy for such feelings, apart from swallowing hard and forgetting them, is the commencement of a lawsuit asking the court to declare the will to be invalid. Such a lawsuit is called a “will contest.” Even though will contests rarely succeed, an understanding of the mechanics of such actions may help someone decide whether to bring a contest action.
A will contest in Tennessee must be commenced within two years after the will was admitted to probate. This time period may be extended for anyone under the age of 18 when the will was filed or if a new will has been discovered. Only certain classes of persons can commence a will contest. Generally speaking, only a person whose interests are affected by the terms of the will can bring such an action. This group includes children of the person who made the will (“testator”), siblings of the testator, and any person named in the will.
Grounds for invalidating a will
All wills must be executed according to the Tennessee statutes governing wills. The failure to obey these laws can be grounds for declaring the will invalid. Such failures can include the lack of the testator’s signature or the lack of two witnesses to the signing.
Another common ground for invalidating a will is proof of the testator’s lack of mental capacity. The testator must have sufficient mental capacity to understand the consequences of signing the will. If the testator was incapacitated by a mental or physical condition that prevented comprehension of the legal effect of signing the will, the will can be invalidated for lack of capacity.
Perhaps the most common ground for contesting a will is the allegation that the testator was the victim of coercion, fraud or undue influence. Undue influence means that one or more heirs applied psychological pressure on the testator to exclude certain would-be beneficiaries or to limit the bequest to such persons.
As noted in the beginning of this post, will contests are difficult to win. Anyone considering a challenge to the validity of a will should consult an experienced probate attorney for an evaluation of the evidence and an estimate of the likelihood of prevailing.