After a family member dies, the settlement of the estate often accompanies the natural process of grieving. It can be difficult to accept the choices the testator made during her or his lifetime and how those choices echo in their last will and testament. Sometimes, questions are raised as to whether or not those choices were actually made by the testator, and heirs may question the will in probate court. The law, however, created a high bar for those who choose to object. Massachusetts law states that a person is capable of creating a will if he or she is free from delusion, understands the purpose of the will, and understands the nature of his or her property.
In a Massachusetts appeals court case, In The Matter Of The Estate Of William E. Weaver (15-P-714), the appellate court declined to uphold the objections of the children to the will of their father. The plaintiffs protesting the testator’s will were children of his first marriage, and they alleged that his second wife and her daughter exerted an undue influence over their father’s will. In the affidavit submitted, the second wife was portrayed as an enabler of their father’s drug abuse and alcoholism. The second wife actually predeceased their father after they created reciprocal wills that left their estates to each other.
The father had a good relationship with the children of his first marriage, but he had difficulties with the daughter of the second wife. His relationship with the step-daughter deteriorated after her mother’s death, especially after he learned she had stolen money from him. The children alleged that their father told them he was aware of the contents of his will, but that his second wife and her daughter pressured him into leaving his estate to her daughter if she died before her. The children claimed the father expressed his desire to leave his estate to his children.
While taking this history into consideration, the appellate court was not swayed by the children’s motion, finding it to be sparse on facts relating to the execution of the will. The court noted that the affidavits did not allege that he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time he executed the will, nor did it state that he did not understand the contents of the will. The court particularly looked to the 20-month period of time between the testator’s second wife’s death and his death, when he was free of her influence and mostly free of the influence of her daughter. The court found that he was in communication with his own children, and he had ample time to change his will to leave them the estate, if that was what he wanted to do.
When contesting a will, it is important to be as clear and concise as you would be when drafting a will. The Massachusetts estate planning attorneys at Karsner & Meehan have the experience and know-how you need to avoid hurdles thrown up by the other party or the legal system itself. For a consultation today, call our office at 508.822.6600.
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