All too often in Florida an undue influencer or bad actor can persuade or manipulate a testator to transfer an account, sign a deed, or change a beneficiary designation in their favor. A contested will can have many implications, including trusts being challenged. If you or a loved one are in the difficult position of considering contesting a will consider engaging the help of knowledgeable counsel.
Palm Beach County Will Contest Attorney Explains Ways to Contest a Will in Florida
There are several methods to challenge a will in Florida: (1) lack of capacity (2) undue influence (3) formalities (4) fraud (5) insane delusion.
Lack of Capacity
In Florida, a person must be of sound mind to make a will. A testator (the person signing the will) must understand the nature of his or her assets and who will inherit said assets. The Court can declare a will void as a matter of law if the testator lacked capacity at the time he or she signed it. Medical diagnoses of the testator are typically utilized to prove a testator lacked capacity or was mentally incompetent. These medical diagnoses include, but are not limited to:
- Dementia, including vascular dementia
- Other psychological conditions
In addition to a testator’s medical records, the testimony of fact witnesses is often helpful to explain how the testator’s conduct around the time of the will signing was irrational.
If a will is signed by a testator because of the coercion, manipulation, duress or influence of another, the will’s validity can be challenged in court. Stated differently, a will is the product of undue influence if the undue influencer’s judgment and decision-making is substituted for the testator’s judgment and decision-making.
Undue influence may be evidenced during either the preparation, creation and/or execution of the will. In order to challenge a will for undue influence, the challenger or contestant has the burden to establish a presumption of undue influence, met by demonstrating that the undue influencer:
- Is a substantial beneficiary of the will
- Occupied a confidential relationship with the testator
- Actively procured the will
If a presumption of undue influence is found by the Court, the burden shifts to the undue influencer who is then required to prove an absence of undue influence.
Florida is a very strict state when it comes to the execution of a will. A valid will requires that the testator sign in the presence of two witnesses. The two witnesses must also sign the will in the testator’s presence and in the presence of each other.
A will can be contested because it lacks one or more of these formalities such as being improperly drafted, witnessed, or executed under Florida law.
Under Florida law, a will is void if it was procured by fraud. Fraud can be found in either the execution of a document or in the inducement. When false representations of material fact are made to the testator knowing full well that the representations are false with the intent that the testator act upon those false, material representations, an individual who is injured or harmed by the testator’s actions can challenge the will.
For example, if a deceitful sibling tells his or her parent, the testator, that the other sibling has committed an immoral act or been convicted of a crime, and the testator makes a change to his or her will based on that fraud, the will may be set aside.
Similar to a will contest for lack of testamentary capacity, Florida law defines an insane delusion as a “fixed false belief” that a testator adhered to against all evidence, logic and reason.
An insane delusion can affect all or part of a will. Conversely, if a will is found void because the testator lacked capacity, the entire will is held to be void or invalid.
Deadlines to Contest a Will
A will may not be contested before the death of the testator.
- If you have been served with a Notice of Administration, you have 90 days to contest the validity of a will.
- If you have been served with Formal Notice of a probate proceeding this period is shortened to 20 days to challenge the validity of a will before the will is admitted to probate.
If you have been served with either a Notice of Administration or Formal Notice of a probate proceeding in Florida it is very important to contact a Palm Beach County will contest attorney.
The Consequences of a Contested Will
A contested will can have many implications, including trusts being challenged. The following types of “will substitutes” can also be challenged on grounds such as lack of capacity, undue influence, and duress:
- Pay-on-death accounts
- Transfer-on-death accounts
- Joint bank accounts
- Real estate deeds
- Life insurance policies
Working with a Palm Beach County will contest attorney will help preserve your rights during a trust dispute and minimize the potential implications.
Contest a Will in Florida with a Palm Beach County Will Contest Lawyer
To better understand the process of contesting a will in Florida, contact a Comiter, Singer, Baseman & Braun Palm Beach County will contest lawyer either online or by calling us at 561-626-2101 or toll-free at 800-226-1484. We work with clients in Palm Beach County, including Boca Raton and Palm Beach Gardens, and throughout the state of Florida.