4 Mistakes That Increase the Odds of Your Will Being Contested
A will is one of the most fundamental documents every American should have. It protects the assets you’ve worked hard for as well as your family and legacy. However, that will could be undone by a successful will contest. Contests—probate litigation by an heir or other stakeholder that challenges the legality of the will—are not common, but they do happen.
What mistakes might increase the chance of your will being contested? And what can you do to avoid that? Discover a few things likely to cause trouble after your passing.
1. Not Updating Your Will
Estate planning is difficult for most people. If you’ve set aside time and energy to complete your will, you’re to be congratulated. However, it’s not a one-and-done task. Your life changes and your heirs’ lives change. You’ll buy and sell assets, heirs will be born and pass away, and you may find your values changing over time.
Update your will when major life events—like marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, the death of an heir, or a significant change in assets—occur. In addition, many professionals recommend revisiting your will every few years. A will that reflects your current situation is less likely to be contested than an old one.
2. Doing It By Yourself
Modern technology allows some people to draw up a will on their own. However, DIY wills have a much higher chance of successful contests than those drawn up by legal professionals. This is, after all, a legal document. It must follow a range of rules.
Your state sets rules about what language must be included, who can witness a will, how it must be drawn up, or who can be an executor. Failure to follow these can make a will invalid. Unclear wording may also lead to contests and disagreements about interpretation. And even innocent errors can render the will unenforceable.
3. Leaving Someone Out
Do you want to disinherit someone? In most cases, you are allowed to leave nothing to a potential heir. State rules do limit this power, though, with spouses and children. Both South Carolina, for example, stipulates that a spouse must inherit at least a minimum of their late spouse’s estate, while Georgia is more lenient. A will that violates inheritance rules is probably going to be contested.
Even if you can leave someone out of your will, simply not including them by name creates an opening for a contest. They may claim it was an oversight or that your intent is unclear. Instead, you may be advised to specifically address the disinherited person or leave them a small amount to help forestall contests.
4. Including Unwelcome Surprises
How much should you tell your family and loved ones about your will’s contents? This is a personal decision, with people opting both to share details and to keep everything to themselves while alive. If you choose the latter, though, you may not want to include any elements that will surprise heirs in a bad way.
For instance, a child who won’t get anything, who gets a much smaller portion than their sibling, or who doesn’t get a certain asset they wanted is more likely to raise an objection to the will. The same might happen if you use the will to reveal the existence of a secret love child, an affair, or even a large charitable contribution.
Potential surprises are often better managed as a conversation with your family while alive. If you must keep a secret, consider using trusts and beneficiary designations that transfer outside the will.
Make your will more contest-proof by meeting with the South Carolina and Georgia estate planning team at Crews Law Offices. We’ll help you make a new will, revise an existing one, or fix problems that may cause contests down the line. Call today to make an appointment.