If you believe a will was executed in suspicious circumstances or that someone is trying to cheat the valid heirs out of their rightful property, then you need to know what it takes to contest a will. In Maryland, the challenge is accomplished through a “caveat” proceeding in Orphans’ Court.
An experienced probate attorney could review the situation to determine whether you have grounds and standing to contest a will and whether a challenge is likely to succeed.
Who Has Standing to Contest a Will?
The courts only allow certain people to challenge the validity of a will. These individuals are often referred to as “interested parties.”
Under Maryland Rule 6-431, the only parties who can file a petition to caveat are the heirs and the legatees, who are the people named in a will. People named in any will purportedly made by the deceased person may challenge the will at issue in a case. For instance, legatees named in an older will can contest a newer one.
It is important to understand whom the “heirs” are when determining who can challenge a will. An heir is anyone who would inherit if there was no will. The Maryland laws of intestate succession list various relatives who would inherit property in different situations and these are considered the heirs.
What Are the Grounds to Contest a Will?
Just as the courts will not allow anyone off the street to contest a will, they also will not let you challenge for just any reason. An interested person needs a legitimate reason (grounds) to file a petition. Generally, the acceptable reasons for contesting a will involve factors that would invalidate the will or indicate that a person benefiting from the will took advantage of the deceased person.
Some of the grounds to challenge a will include:
- The will did not meet the legal requirements (signature, witnesses, etc.)
- Someone exerted undue influence over the deceased person to cause them to include provisions in the will that would not be there otherwise
- The deceased person was mentally impaired at the time the will was created/executed
- The document is forged
- Provisions were induced by fraud or under duress
- The provisions have been superseded by a newer will
Wills executed during the COVID-19 pandemic might be examined differently. For instance, witness requirements might be changed or waived.
When Can You Contest a Will?
In most cases, a caveat proceeding to challenge a will must be filed no later than six months from opening an estate. The deadline to act is much shorter than in other legal proceedings, so it is wise to consult an attorney as soon as possible if a problem is suspected.
A Probate Lawyer Could Help You Contest a Will in Maryland
It is important to take care when filing a caveat petition to challenge a will because you will probably not have the chance to amend the petition if you later discover new grounds for challenging the will. Working with an attorney experienced in caveat proceedings can help avoid costly mistakes and help you take advantage of the best opportunities to reach a positive outcome in your case.
Contact us today to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your concerns about a Maryland will with a knowledgeable probate attorney at the Law Office of Ralph W. Powers, Jr., PC.