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Contesting wills without legal help a risky prospect

It is not uncommon for people to feel they were unfairly treated in a loved one's will. Although New York state laws allow people to contest wills, it is a complicated legal process that requires much more than not liking the terms of a will. Proving a will to be invalid could be a costly and time-consuming process, typically not tackled without legal counsel. While state laws differ, four fundamental reasons could lead to a will being declared invalid.

Failing to comply with state laws during the signing of the will is one of the most frequent challenges against the validity of the document. State laws determine whose signatures must accompany that of the testator, and who must be present at the signing. Another reason, even more challenging, is proving that the testator lacked the testamentary capacity to sign the will. To prove this it must be shown that the testator did not understand the value and nature of his or her assets and the legal effects of signing the will. Without a medical adjudication to show incapacity, the chances of this argument being successful are not strong.

Proving that the will was written or changed under undue force or influence is another reason, but it must be more than mere nagging or threats. The challenger must prove that an influencer exerted extreme pressure, consulted with the testator's attorney, isolated the testator from friends and family or paid for the will to be changed. Proving fraud in the procurement of the will, such as the testator being tricked into signing it, might invalidate the will. However, it is challenging to prove because the testator is no longer around to testify.

Anyone in New York who believes he or she has grounds to challenge the validity of a will will want to consult with an estate planning attorney. A lawyer who has experience in challenging wills can assist with gathering the necessary evidence. Legal counsel can provide valuable support and guidance throughout ensuing legal proceedings.

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