Reasons COVID-19 May Lead to Contested Wills
Each year, roughly 3% of wills are contested in the United States. However, the COVID-19 pandemic is changing everything, and some estate planning litigation lawyers worry that contested will rates may be on the rise. There are a few key reasons that the coronavirus may cause more contested wills.
Concerns About Will Witnesses
In the state of New Jersey, the people witnessing your will are the people who can prove its validity. A will witness needs to be someone over the age of 18 who can attest that you were in sound mind while creating the will. There are a few different ways that COVID-19 can impair the reliability of your witnesses. If you are trying to quickly write a will while getting treatment in a hospital, you might be tempted to just grab the closest nurse or a fellow patient. Actually locating these witnesses later on to testify about your illness will may be tricky. Furthermore, someone contesting the will could argue that they did not know you well enough to recognize whether or not you were competent. Another potential problem is if your witnesses die from COVID-19. The will is still good, but in that case, the witness could not speak on your behalf if a will is contested.
Potential Problems With Undue Influence
One of the most common reasons for getting an estate planning litigation lawyer to contest a will is because there is doubt over whether or not the person was of sound mind and unduly influenced by those around them. COVID-19 can make this very hard to determine. The virus reduces oxygen levels and raises temperatures, causing a person to become confused and irrational in many cases. However, it can be difficult to tell exactly when a sick person is no longer mentally sound. They may fade in and out of delirium, being reasonable about some matters but irrational about others. Potentially, this could lead to an unethical person tricking the sick person into writing a will that favors them excessively. These concerns about undue influence can raise doubt about the validity of a will written by a person sick with COVID-19.
Challenges With Getting Wills Notarized
In New Jersey, you do not actually have to get a will notarized. However, it can be helpful to do so. When a will is properly notarized, it becomes “self-proving.” This designation speeds up the probate process, so self-proving wills are less likely to be contested. New Jersey does allow remote notarization during the pandemic, so people can get their will notarized without leaving the safety of their home. However, many people are not aware of this. Those who skip will notarization because they think it is impossible right now may be more at risk for their will being contested later on.
Changes to the Assets Listed in the Will
Most reasons for contesting a will revolve around the idea that the writer of the will was not of sound mind, but it is also possible to contest a will because a person believes there was an oversight or accident that caused them to be inadvertently left out. These sorts of will contests are harder to prove, but with COVID-19 changing the way everything is handled, it may be possible. The values of investments and businesses have changed greatly during COVID, so an older will may potentially end up assigning a now valueless asset to a beneficiary. If a person can argue that the will’s writer did not mean to disinherit them, they may potentially be able to contest it.
As you can see, COVID-19 brings up all sorts of concerns that may require people to contest a will. If you are in this situation, it is a good idea to speak to an estate planning litigation lawyer. The Knee Law Firm in Hackensack, New Jersey, has the experience needed to write reliable wills and contest problematic wills. We are still working during COVID-19, so you can set up a remote appointment through our Bergen County office. Schedule your consultation by emailing us or calling (201) 996-1200.