Something isn’t right about your late grandmother’s will.
You’ve drifted away from your family over the years since you moved away to Illinois to start a family of your own, but you’ve always been on good terms with everybody—especially your grandmother—so it comes as a shock to you just how little you stand to receive in her will.
After flying down to Nashville and meeting with the executor, you’re left with questions spinning around in your head—did your grandmother really write that will and choose to leave you out? Did she know and approve of its contents before she passed? You’ve kept in touch with relatives who’ve informed you over the years of her declining health, and you can’t help but wonder if perhaps somebody took advantage of her: perhaps a new friend or neighbor who has been recently added to the will—in your stead.
You don’t want to cause drama or bring trouble to your family. You hardly even want to think about it—but this can’t be what your grandmother really wanted. So you have to ask yourself:
How do I contest a late relative’s will?
Can a Will be Contested in Tennessee?
Specific criteria vary from state to state, but in Tennessee, like any other state in the US, you have the ability to raise a formal objection if you believe that a recently departed loved one’s will is invalid. Tennessee law recognizes a specific set of circumstances that can render a will invalid, and you will have to file a petition in probate court with the help of legal professionals who can help you navigate the complex landscape of Tennessee estate law.
Let’s take a look at some of the particulars of contesting a will in Tennessee, starting with who can challenge a will’s validity.
Who can contest a will in Tennessee?
In the state of Tennessee, like many others, not just anybody can contest a will. Only certain individuals can make a valid challenge in probate court: namely, a beneficiary or someone who would have stood to inherit under intestacy law.
In other words, to contest a will, you must either have been entitled to a share of the deceased’s estate or stood to receive something in their will. In most cases, if you are related to the testator (the person to whom the will belongs), you are likely eligible to challenge their will—so long as your reasons for doing so are recognized by law.
What valid reasons are there for contesting a will?
Tennessee law recognizes several legitimate reasons to contest a late relative’s will. It isn’t enough for a will to be or feel unfair to one or more beneficiaries or would-be beneficiaries—a will has to fail to meet specific criteria to be successfully contested.
There are four reasons you can give to contest a will in Tennessee, which we can divide into two categories:
1. The testator lacked testamentary capacity
In this case, the testator lacked the capacity to make informed decisions about the will’s contents at the time of the document’s drafting due to their mental state at the time. For example, your late relative may have had Alzheimer’s to some degree.
The evidence needed to contest a will under these grounds will have to demonstrate that:
- Your late relative could not have known they were making a will or what its effects would be.
- They were insufficiently capable of understanding the nature and value of their estate.
- They did not know the consequences of including or excluding certain people from their will.
- They had a “disorder of the mind” that could influence their views.
2. The will lacks valid execution
You can also contest a late relative’s will if you believe it did not meet certain specific requirements. In Tennessee, a will is only valid if:
- The will is in writing. Tennessee recognizes attested wills, handwritten (also called “holographic”) wills, and in extremely rare cases, oral wills.
- The testator signed the will or explicitly directed a representative to sign it.
- The will was signed in the presence of at least two witnesses, each of whom either signed or attested to the will. In Tennessee, the rules about who can and cannot count as witnesses to a will’s creation are very strict.
In the state of Tennessee, the legal presumption is always that the will is valid unless you have evidence that says otherwise.
How a Will Can Lack Due Execution
A will lacks valid execution if any of the following scenarios have happened:
- Even if the testator was of sound mind, they were kept from having full knowledge and approval of the will’s contents.
- The testator was coerced or placed under duress by somebody close to them, such as family, a neighbor or friend, or a legal professional, to alter the will in their favor or to exclude somebody else. This is called undue influence and most often occurs when a trusted caretaker takes advantage of a testator’s health, financial situation, or other circumstances to manipulate them.
- The will has been forged or fraud has taken place
- The will needs to be rectified because, due to clerical error or failure to understand the testator’s instructions, their intentions were not properly carried out.
How long do you have to contest a will in Tennessee?
In the state of Tennessee, you have up to two years from the date your late relative’s will was admitted to file a case contesting their will. However, this does not mean it is in your best interest to wait.
Holding off on contesting a will can make it more difficult to gather the evidence you need to prove your case, so it’s best to reach out to experienced probate law attorneys as soon as you can to get started.
How to Contest a Will and Win in Tennessee
It isn’t easy, but if you do suspect that your late relative’s wishes for their estate aren’t being respected, contesting a will can help you set things right.
The success rate of contesting a will depends entirely on the strength of your evidence. Whether you are contesting a will due to your relative’s mental state, forgery or fraud, undue influence, clerical error, or lack of sufficient witnesses, you will need strong proof that any of these things took place.
Evidence Needed to Contest a Will
The evidence you will need to successfully contest a will varies depending on your grounds of contest, but it all must be credible and relevant to support your claim.
Examples of credible evidence for various claims include:
Lack of Testamentary Capability
- Medical records or expert testimony that demonstrate the testator’s mental state at the time of making their will
- Witness statements or documents that demonstrate signs of cognitive decline or impairment, or the testator’s lack of understanding when making the will
Fraud or Forgery
- Handwriting analysis that can demonstrate the testator’s signature was forged
- Evidence of deceptive actions or misrepresentations in the will’s creation
- Testimony from individuals with knowledge of the alleged fraud or forgery
- Documentation, such as witness testimony or affidavits, showing that the will was not properly signed and witnessed in accordance with Tennessee law
- Documentation or testimony that indicates a close relationship between influencer and testator
- Evidence of the influencer’s control or manipulation over the testator’s decisions
- Witness statements or documents supporting your claim that the testator was coerced or under duress in writing their will
- Specific evidence of undue influence, such as:
- Isolation of the testator by the influencer
- Sudden or drastic changes to the testator’s will
- Any threats or intimidation against the testator
- Documentation of unusual financial transactions between testator and influencer
What happens when you successfully contest a will in Tennessee?
In the state of Tennessee, there are two outcomes to successfully contesting a will.
One possible outcome of contesting a late relative’s will is that if they had an earlier will that was previously invalidated by the will you contested, the court will enforce the earlier will.
The other outcome is if there is no other will to use as guidance. In this case, the court will divide your late relative’s assets as they would if they passed away intestate, based on the stipulations and guidelines laid out in Tennessee intestate law.
MHPS Law: Your Allies in Will Contests
Will contests can lead to stressful, long-running court procedures. At MHPS Law, our team of expert probate lawyers is here to relieve the stress and guide you through the process of contesting a late loved one’s will so you can make the strongest case possible to resolve your doubts and see to it your late relative’s wishes are respected.
The will contest lawyers at MHPS Law are dedicated to bringing empathy and understanding to all of our clients, in addition to our extensive knowledge of Tennessee probate law. We are more than probate attorneys—we are advocates, educators, and advisors who stand with you to help you navigate the complex world of Tennessee probate law and see to it your loved one’s wishes are respected after they pass on.