Will Executed Under Duress
The purpose of a will is for the testator to provide legally enforceable instructions as to what should happen to his (or her) property after he passes away. However, if the will does not truly reflect the wishes of the testator because someone wrongly pressured that testator, those who stand to benefit from the estate have the right to object to the will by filing a petition in circuit court overseeing the administration of the decedent’s estate. If you believe that the will of a loved one was created under duress, contact a Fort Lauderdale will contest lawyer at the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates, who will listen to your concerns and assist you in filing an objecting to probating the will that you believe to be invalid.Will Executed Under Duress
A will would have been created under duress if someone threatened the testator or physically harmed the testator in order to get the testator to create a will that he would not have otherwise created. Examples of acts that would amount to duress include:
- Physical attack
- Threats of a physical attack
- Withholding or threatening to without a necessity such as food, medication, or water
Duress often involves one of more of the following circumstances:
- A elderly or otherwise vulnerable testator
- A disposition of an estate that seems unusual based on the testator’s family relationships and prior expressed wishes
- A new will that is vastly different from prior wills
- The testator has become extremely dependent on another person who also happens to be a beneficiary
- The testator has questionable testamentary capacity
- The testator suffers from depression or loneliness
- The new beneficiary has a short history with the testator
Joyce created a will in which she left her $5 million estate to various family members and charitable organizations. One of the beneficiaries was her niece, Sarah. Joyce left Sarah $10,000. During the last years of Joyce’s life Sarah asked Joyce for a larger share. Joyce declined, stating that she wanted to leave roughly equal gifts to everyone and did not want to give one person a larger share. Sarah began to become critical of Joyce, berating her publically, despite protests from other family and friends. There were even occasions in which Sarah shoved the ailing Joyce, causing her to fall. Finally, a few months before she died, Joyce changed her will, leaving Sarah $250,000 and reduced gifts to other family members.
After Joyce passed away, other family members learned that she had changed her will in favor of Sarah. Angry, the beneficiaries whose distributions were reduced filed objections with the help of an experienced Fort Lauderdale will contest lawyer. Based on testimony from multiple people of how Sarah demanded more money from Joyce and her psychological and physical abuse, the probate court found in favor of the objectants.Legal Standing in Florida
In order to challenge a will based on duress, you must have legal standing to do so. A person will have standing to object to probating will in Fort Lauderdale if he (or she) is named as a beneficiary in the will, or in a prior will. A person would have legal standing to object to the will if he stands to inherit in the absence of a valid will. Such individuals would be the decedent’s legal heirs based on Florida’s intestate succession statute. Typically, this would include the surviving spouse and children. In the absence of a surviving spouse or children, siblings, parents, and grandparents stand to inherit.Consequences of a Will Challenge
As an experienced will contest attorney in Fort Lauderdale will explain, there are a several consequences of a will challenge based on duress.
- Delay probate. In Florida the administration of an estate typically takes 6-12 months. An objection to probate will delay the process as the court will not allow the administration process to begin until the issue of whether or not the will is valid has been resolved.
- Terms voided. If the probate court determines that there was indeed a will executed under duress problem, it may conclude that the best remedy is to void the terms that benefit the person who threatened or harmed the testator. The rest of the will would stand.
- Prior will. If the will contest is successful, the court may throw out the will. This may mean that a prior valid will is probated.
- Intestate succession. If the will contest is successful, the court may throw out the will. This may mean that the decedent’s estate is distributed based on the rules of intestate succession. As a result, the decedent’s next of kin such as his surviving spouse and children will receive his entire estate.
If you are facing a will executed under duress problem because you believe that the will of a loved one was created under duress, it is important that you are represented by a skilled will contest attorney serving clients in Fort Lauderdale who has the knowledge of Florida estate law and probate court procedure to object to probate and fight for your legal rights. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates have years of experience representing clients in matters relating to estate disputes. Contact us attorneys at 561-710-4000 to schedule a free, no obligation consultation regarding your case.