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Lombard estate planning attorneysImagine this scenario: Your elderly grandmother has lived with a caretaker for several years. She passes away and upon reading her will, you find that your grandmother has left all of her assets and belongings to the caretaker and none to her children or grandchildren. For many people, this would raise red flags. There are countless scenarios like this which lead to families contesting the validity of a loved one’s will.

When Should a Will Be Contested?

If you think that your loved one’s will does not accurately reflect his or her final wishes, you should contest it. Contesting the will means that you are asking the courts to deem the will invalid. Probate courts in Illinois can invalidate a will for several specific reasons. Firstly, a will can be thrown out if can be shown that the deceased person, or the decedent, was unduly influenced by someone during the will's creation. For example, in the hypothetical scenario above, the caretaker could have coerced the elderly grandmother to leave her property to him instead of her family.


Lombard estate planning lawyerMany of us have seen celebrity disputes in the news regarding a deceased person’s estate. For instance, after music legend Michael Jackson died in 2009, his family became embroiled in financial and legal arguments regarding his last will and testament. Jackson’s siblings—who were not named as beneficiaries—claimed that pop icon’s will was fake. Another dispute arose when Anna Nicole Smith’s billionaire husband J. Howard Marshall died. In a series of dramatic court cases, Smith was at first awarded but then denied a share of her late husband’s estate. Smith died just a year after her late husband and the argument was not resolved.

Celebrities are not the only ones to experience the tension of an estate dispute. Every day, families whose names we do not know experience the pain and trauma of arguments over inheritance. There is no way to eliminate the risk that your estate plan will be challenged by a family member, but there are some steps you can take to minimize the risk:

  1. Talk to your family about your plans. Although it can be an extremely difficult to talk to your family about plans for after your death, it is also critically important. By explaining your estate planning choices to your family, you can help avoid disputes in the future;
  2. Do not wait until you are sick to create an estate plan. People often think that only older individuals or those with a terminal illness should take estate planning seriously. In reality, having an estate plan in place while you are physically and mentally well can lessen the chance of problems later on. An estate plan which is created when the testator is in ill health is more susceptible to being contested;
  3. Update your estate plan appropriately. Estate planning is an ongoing process. Plans should be reviewed and updated based on changes in your family.  When a beneficiary gives birth, gets married or divorced, or passes away, you must account for these changes in your plan. It is also imperative to monitor your assets and your beneficiary designations;
  4. Consider using a revocable living trust to avoid probate. A revocable living trust puts property and financial assets into a trust which are then administered for the creator’s benefit during their lifetime. After death, the assets in the trust are either distributed or held in trust for future distribution to named beneficiaries; and
  5. Do not try to navigate the estate planning process alone. An experienced estate planning attorney will be familiar with changing laws and court decisions. He or she will be able to guide you in your estate planning process and help you lessen the chance of a contested will or dispute.

Seek Skilled Legal Assistance


Lombard estate planning lawyersIn the weeks and months following the death of a loved one, you are likely to experience a wide range of emotions. Grief and sadness, of course, are often the most common, but you may also feel twinges of anger, guilt, and regret over missed opportunities. If your loved one was very sick or in pain, there may even be a sense of relief. All of these feelings are a normal part of dealing with a significant loss and are to be expected.

If your loved one had a will or another type of estate planning document, the emotional rollercoaster may resume when it comes time to execute the will. Many of the same feelings may come flooding back, possibly accompanied by a great deal of surprise if the will contains unexpected terms and provisions or is not the same document you discussed with your loved one prior to his or her death. When such surprises occur, it is worth trying to find out if the will was the product of undue influence and whether contesting the will is appropriate.

What Is Undue Influence?


Lombard estate planning lawyersChallenging the validity of someone’s will is not an easy undertaking, regardless of your reasons for opposing the document. Contesting a will is both time-consuming and expensive, and, in many cases, the effort to contest is more trouble than it is worth, especially in wake of the person's death. Additionally, not everyone is eligible to contest a will. In most cases, the person contesting must be listed as a beneficiary in the will in order to proceed with the objection.

Despite these considerations, however, there are certain instances where the desire to contest a will is understandable and within reason. In these cases, your best bet is to consult a competent estate planning attorney, who can help assist and guide you in the matter. You can begin the process by examining the following to determine whether or not you have legitimate grounds for contesting a will:

Can You Prove the Decedent Was Unduly Influenced?

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