When a Michigan resident signs a will, he or she expects the terms of the will to be enforced by the probate court. This expectation is fulfilled in most instances, but occasionally, a relative will mount a challenge to the will’s validity and ask the probate court to invalidate the will. These challenges are called “will contests,” and they may be brought for a narrowly defined set of reasons.
A frequent ground for challenging a will is the assertion that the person who made the will, called the “testator,” lacked sufficient mental capacity to make a will. Under Michigan law, the testator must be able to understand the consequences of leaving a will, that is, who will receive property by virtue of the bequests in the will and who will not receive property. If the person challenging the will can demonstrate that the testator lacked adequate mental capacity, the court will declare the entire will invalid.
Failure to abide by the formalities
All wills must be signed by the testator in the presence of two witnesses. The failure to follow these procedures may also lead to the invalidation of the will.
Fraud and undue influence
Another common ground for challenging a will is an allegation of fraud or undue influence. The law expects a testator to be acting out of free will when the will is executed. If the challenge proves that the testator was subject to fraud or undue influence, the will may be invalidated. Undue influence refers to a situation in which one person exercises undue control over the testator’s decisions. A common example of undue influence is a live-in caretaker who exerts significant control over all of the testator’s actions. Fraud is the misrepresentation of a material fact by one of the heirs intended to influence the testator to make a specific bequest.
Will contests can be complicated law suits. Anyone who senses that a will contests is likely may wish to consult an experienced estate attorney for an evaluation of the allegations and an estimate of the likelihood of prevailing.