Nashville Will & Estate Contest Attorneys
Estate Dispute Representation in Nashville
A “last will and testament” allows someone to decide who will receive their assets once they are gone. When you create your will, you understandably expect your wishes to be honored by those who survive you. Unfortunately, matters of estate administration can quickly become contentious, especially if a family member believes something is amiss or that they were inappropriately excluded from your estate plan.
Any person with standing has the right to challenge the enforceability of a will, which can substantially delay the probate process and consequently the distribution of assets. Ensuring your will is properly witnessed and formalized can minimize the possibility of will contests. If you are serving as an executor to an estate facing a will contest, our team at Lackey McDonald, PLLC can represent you in all negotiations and any necessary litigation. Our firm can also assist interested parties who have grounds to challenge an estate. Our Nashville will contest lawyers have many decades of collective experience and an outstanding reputation for meeting the needs of our clients. You will have direct access to our attorneys every step of the way, and we will leverage the full extent of our resources to pursue a favorable outcome.
If you are involved in a will contest, call (615) 392-4916 or contact us online to schedule a free initial consultation. Flexible payment options and same-day appointments are available.
Who Can Contest a Will in Tennessee?
Only someone with “standing” can contest a will in Tennessee. To have standing, you must have some legitimate interest in the outcome of the current will’s acceptance and the resulting probate process. For example, you would have standing if a previous draft of the will named you as a beneficiary, but you are not included in the current draft. Surviving immediate relatives almost always have standing, as they would benefit under Tennessee’s intestacy laws if no valid will can be located. If you are interested in contesting an estate, our Nashville will contest attorneys can determine whether you have standing.
A person with standing does not have an unlimited amount of time to file a will contest. In Tennessee, someone with standing has two years from the admittance of the will in question to formally challenge the enforceability of the document.
What Are the Grounds for Contesting a Will in Tennessee?
Someone with standing cannot contest a will because they are not happy with its contents. They must have some legitimate reason for bringing the challenge.
Tennessee recognizes four acceptable reasons for contesting a will:
- Improper execution: For a will to be enforceable, the document must be written and signed by the testator. (Another person may write the will on behalf of the testator with their permission.) The document must be signed in the presence of two witnesses, who must also sign the will. A will does not necessarily have to be notarized but involving a notary can help avoid allegations of improper execution. If there is evidence that the document was not signed by the testator or not signed in the presence of witnesses, someone with standing can contest the will due to improper execution. However, Tennessee presumes wills have been appropriately executed unless there is evidence suggesting otherwise.
- Lack of capacity: The testator must be of sound mind when they write and sign their will. In Tennessee, a testator is of sound mind if they understand that they are signing their will, the purpose of the will, and the scope of their estate. A person with declining mental faculties may not have the capacity to meet these requirements and is therefore not able to validate a new will. Someone may contest the will if there is evidence indicating the testator was not of sound mind when they signed the latest draft.
- Undue influence: Unscrupulous parties may attempt to manipulate a vulnerable person into modifying their will to their benefit. One of the most common signs of undue influence is the heavy inclusion of an unexpected beneficiary. There may also be cause for suspicion if a new draft was created with the cooperation of this unexpected beneficiary not long before the testator’s death.
- Fraud: A will is considered fraudulent if the entirety of its contents was not written by the testator (or transcribed with their permission). A will may also be thrown out due to fraud if the testator’s signature is determined to be a forgery. A person with standing can also contest a will on these grounds if there is evidence demonstrating the testator was tricked into signing the document.
How Does Contesting a Will Work in Tennessee?
Contesting a will in Tennessee involves litigation. Some families (and other interested parties) are able to work out disputes through negotiation or mediation, but if a resolution cannot be reached, the contesting party — who, again, must have standing — will need to file a lawsuit. The court will review evidence and hear testimony from each side before making a decision.
What Happens If a Will Contest Is Successful in Tennessee?
When a court decides a Tennessee will is invalid, what comes next will depend on why the will was contested. If the will was improperly executed or fraudulent, the entire document will likely be considered invalid. If undue influence appeared to affect specific components of the will, only the tainted portions may be thrown out.
In situations where the entire current draft of a will is considered unenforceable, the court will accept a previous valid draft of the will. If no valid draft exists at all, the deceased’s estate will be subject to Tennessee’s intestacy laws. This means the deceased’s property will generally be distributed to the most immediate surviving relatives.
When someone includes a forfeiture provision in their will, they state that any beneficiary who contests the will consequently loses any inheritance and/or rights described in the document. These provisions are meant to limit the possibility of will contests, but they introduce other complications, especially if there is a legitimate reason to contest the estate.
Forfeiture provisions may or may not be enforced in Tennessee. If a loved one’s will includes such a provision and you are considering challenging the document, get in touch with our team at Lackey McDonald, PLLC. Our Nashville will contest lawyers can assess your unique circumstances and advise how pursuing legal action may impact your rights.
Do not attempt to navigate will contest litigation without experienced legal representation. Contact us online or call (615) 392-4916 to discuss your case.