There are certain circumstances in which a person can legally challenge a will or trust. Two frequent causes of contests are lack of mental capacity and undue influence. In Michigan, a last will and testament, trust, or beneficiary designation is only valid if the person executing the document has the mental capacity to understand what they are signing. Lack of capacity can be caused by many factors, including dementia, mental illness, physical illness, or medication.
Documents can also be challenged if they may have been executed under undue influence. Undue influence may exist if a person has the opportunity to exert influence, the person making the document is susceptible to influence (for instance due to age, frailty, or medical capacity), and the influencer benefits from the executed document. One example would be an elderly person who disinherits his children, and leaves his entire estate to a home health aide, because the aide isolated him and threatened to withhold his medication unless he did so.
A will executed under mental incapacity or undue influence is not valid. If you suspect that an invalid will has been submitted to probate, or that a trust is operating under an invalid trust document, a contest in probate court is the only way to prevent the will or trust from being treated as valid.
Even if a will or trust seems terribly unfair, a contest will not be successful unless the probate court finds that the document is not valid under Michigan law.
Will contests are far more frequent than contested trusts or beneficiary designations. If a will is found to be invalid, the estate of the deceased person, or decedent, will be distributed according to the last valid will he or she executed. If there was no prior valid will, the estate will be distributed according to Michigan's intestacy laws—in other words, how the state presumes most people would want their assets distributed.
If you believe a Michigan will that is not valid has been (or will be) submitted to probate, you have limited time in which to act. Your first step should be to contact a Michigan probate attorney who has experience in will contests and probate litigation. (Some probate attorneys advise personal representatives on estate administration, but do not litigate cases).
An attorney who is experienced in contested probate matters will review the facts of your case, and explain Michigan probate law as it applies to those facts. At Suzanne R. Fanning PLLC, we have decades of experience representing heirs and beneficiaries in will and trust contests, and extensive knowledge of capacity issues. We are also mindful, always, of the fact that the people involved in these cases are grieving the loss of a loved one. We advocate for our clients with compassion as well as with skill.
Attorney Suzanne R. Fanning has many years of experience representing clients in Michigan probate litigation. Our office is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with ample free parking nearby. The firm is only minutes away from the Washtenaw County Courthouse. Suzanne R. Fanning PLLC regularly works with clients in Washtenaw, Wayne, Monroe, Livingston, Genesee and Lenawee Counties and throughout Michigan, as well as clients outside Michigan who require the help of a local attorney.