Most Texans think that by signing a will, they will eliminate quarrels among their survivors over the distribution of their assets. In many cases, that assumption is valid, but in a few cases, survivors of the decedent may still quarrel over who gets what from the decedent’s estate. In these cases, the disgruntled heirs may need to commence a challenge to the validity of the will. The rules for determining the validity of a Texas will are clear and are firmly established.
The basic grounds for challenging a will
Texas law has six reasons that a court can use to declare a will – or a portion of a will – invalid. The six reasons are:
- Lack of proper formalities/undue execution
- Undue Influence
- Lack of capacity
Lack of proper formalities
Under Texas law, every will must be signed by the maker of the will (the testator) and witnessed by two persons older than 14. The failure to abide by all of the formal requirements can lead to the will being declared invalid.
A will is supposed to be the testator’s free act and deed. Occasionally, a friend or relative of the testator develops a relationship that allows the friend or relative to exert undue influence over the testator’s decisions in making the will. To successfully challenge a will based on undue influence, the person challenging the will must prove
- the existence and exertion of an influence
- the effective operation of such influence so as to subvert or overpower the mind of the testator at the time of the execution of the testament
- the execution of a testament, which the maker thereof would not have executed but for such influence
A successful challenge based on undue influence usually depends on evidence from a psychiatrist or other healthcare provider concerning the testator’s mental condition.
Occasionally, a testator will decide to reject a previous will and draft a new will. If the existence of the new will is proved, the earlier will is invalid.
Lack of testamentary capacity
A testator must be mentally competent to make a valid will. Competency depends on the testator understanding the nature of the will and its legal effect on ownership of their assets. Generally, incompetency is proved by evidence that the testator suffered from dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or psychosis at or around the time that the will was executed.
A will can be ruled invalid if the person contesting the will can prove that one or more of the heirs was able to control or affect a decision of the testator regarding a bequest by making a false statement to the testator. If the false statement can be proved, the bequest that was affected by the fraudulent statement will be ruled invalid.
Sound legal advice
Anyone who feels they may have been the victim of one or more of the foregoing missteps may wish to consult an experienced probate attorney for a review of the evidence and advice about the likelihood of succeeding in a will contest.