Challenging a Will in Ohio: What Circumstances Make a Will Invalid?
January 9th, 2012
Challenging a will usually occurs when a family member of a deceased person believes the will does not reflect the true wishes of its creator or is otherwise invalid. Sometimes the challenger contests the will with a motive for selfish gain, but more often it is because they believe the creator did not have sufficient mental capacity when writing it or was under the undue influence of a selfishly motivated individual.
In Ohio, probate attorneys helping clients to contest a will must gather evidence to prove that the testator (the person who created the will) did not have "testamentary capacity." In Ohio, testamentary capacity means that the testator was at least 18 years of age, had a sound mind at the time the will was executed, and was not under any kind of restraint or undue influence. Age is the easiest component to prove and rarely provides grounds for challenging a will.
The most common reason for challenging a will is that the testator was not of sound mind. "Sound mind" means that the person, at the time of executing the will, had the mental capacity to understand the nature and extent of their property and understand what they want to happen to the property after their death. The person must know who they are and also must understand who their natural heirs are. When contesting a will on these grounds, it is up to the challenger to prove the testator was not of sound mind when the will was executed.
Proving a lack of mental capacity can be difficult because not everything that may seem of unsound mind to a person unfamiliar with probate law is valid proof for lack of testamentary capacity. Illiteracy or lack of education does not constitute unsound mind and neither does lack of wisdom or lack of fairness. Forgetfulness or "weakness of mind" and similar symptoms demonstrated by the testator are usually insufficient to invalidate a will.
Even mental disability or mental illness does not automatically constitute a lack of testamentary capacity that can invalidate a will because some individuals suffering mental disability or illness can have lucid moments from time to time. If Ohio probate attorneys defending the will find witnesses who can attest that the testator was lucid at the time of signing the will, then the will is likely to stand as valid.
To invalidate a will on grounds of lack of testamentary capacity due to unsound mind, the person challenging the will must prove that the testator likely suffered a lack of mental capacity at the time the will was created and signed.
Challenging a Will When Undue Influence is Involved
The other common reason for challenging a will is that the testator was under undue influence at the time the will was created.
Undue influence means that, while the testator may have had testamentary capacity and sufficient mental capacity, he or she was under the influence of or manipulated by another person with selfish intentions.
The nursing home nurse who makes an effort to keep family members away from a well-to-do resident and then manipulates him or her into a writing a new will that names the nurse as beneficiary is an example of undue influence that could invalidate a will. However, the son or daughter who spends more time or money caring for their elderly parent and makes a request for more of the inheritance is unlikely to be upheld as undue influence.
Ohio probate attorneys representing family members who are challenging a will usually know that they must show that the alleged influencer had selfish motivations for influencing the testator and exhibited manipulative behavior toward the testator.
Are you considering challenging a will because the testator lacked mental capacity at the time of executing the will or created the will under the undue influence of someone with selfish intentions?
Do you need to defend a loved one's will against an unfair challenge?
Call the Ohio probate attorneys of Gudorf Law Group, LLC at 1-877-483-6730 to schedule a free consultation.