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Understanding the 3 Main Reasons Wills Are Invalidated

Did you know that roughly 3% of all wills end up being contested? If the will is invalidated, the deceased’s assets can end up being distributed entirely differently than he or she wished. These are the three most common reasons that a will ends up being invalidated.

1. Undue Influence

Overall, one of the leading reasons for invalidating a will in New Jersey is undue influence. Undue influence occurs when a person in a position of power puts pressure on a vulnerable individual and forces him or her to write a will that he or she would not have written otherwise. In some cases, undue influence is easy to prove. For example, if the deceased left all his or her money to a nurse he or she met one time, undue influence is likely.

However, undue influence becomes a little vaguer when it involves a situation in which one sibling allegedly tells lies about another sibling to get him or her written out of the will. Generally, undue influence can be suspected in any case in which a person was ill, impaired or impoverished and left money to a caregiver, healthcare professional or another person in a position of power.

2. Lack of Mental Capacity

Another major reason that wills are invalidated is due to the testator not being of sound mind. A person can only write a valid will in New Jersey if he or she is fully conscious and mentally capable of making decisions. So, if a person with late-stage dementia suddenly makes a will disinheriting his or her children, the will could be invalidated. Any time the testator is not mentally aware enough to recognize the extent of his or her property, the identity of his or her heirs or the gravity of his or her decision, the will can be invalidated.

The hard part of this type of will invalidation is determining what counts as being mentally sound. For example, if someone was on pain medication after surgery, at what point have the medications worn off enough for the person’s will to be valid? This is the whole point of the witnesses to a will. Ideally, they should be knowledgeable professionals who know the deceased well enough to confirm whether the testator was mentally capable of creating a will.

3. Issues With How the Document Was Created

New Jersey has very precise requirements for what counts as a will. For any document to be recognized as a will, it needs to be in writing, made by a testator who is at least 18 and mentally sound, signed by the testator and witnessed by two unbiased witnesses. If any of these requirements are not met, then the provisions laid out in the will do not have to be followed. It is uncommon for a will to be recognized when it doesn’t meet these conditions, but in rare cases of fraud or incompetence, it can occur.

In these situations, the will technically isn’t being invalidated. Instead, your estate planning litigation lawyer will strive for the court to acknowledge that the document was not a valid will in the first place. To get this sort of will thrown out, you need to have extensive proof of issues with the will. For example, you may need a handwriting expert to show that the deceased didn’t sign the document, or you could present video footage that shows one of the supposed witnesses wasn’t with the deceased on the day the document was created.

Understanding why wills are invalidated can help you make smart choices. If you notice any of these issues arising in the will of a deceased loved one, you may want to talk to an estate planning litigation lawyer about contesting a will. If you’re considering making a will yourself, you can try to avoid adding any of these complications to the situation.

To learn more about your estate planning options, get in touch with The Knee Law Firm. Our team of Hackensack lawyers is here to help with trusts, wills, power of attorney documents and more. Call (201) 996-1200, or send us a message to schedule a free consultation.