Beneficiary written on blocks

Can a Beneficiary Challenge the Validity of a Will or Trust?

When Leona Helmsley (a real estate tycoon who once owned the Empire State Building) died, she cut two of her four grandchildren out of her will, and left $12 million to her dog. This caused a lot of trouble (which also happened to be the dog’s name) for her estate. 

The grandchildren who had been cut out challenged the will, alleging that Helmsley “was not of sound mind or memory and did not have the mental capacity to make a Will.” The estate executors quickly moved to settle the dispute. Trouble’s inheritance was reduced to $2 million, and the previously snubbed grandchildren were given their fair share. 

This may be an extreme example of an estate plan that was not executed exactly as its creator intended, but the Palmer & Slay team has seen enough families in the Brandon, Mississippi area challenge their loved one’s wills or trusts to know that it is not as unusual as it may seem. 

How to Challenge a Loved One’s Estate Plan

There are many reasons why a beneficiary (or someone who thinks they should be a beneficiary) might want to challenge the validity of a will or trust. Typically, they are dissatisfied with the assets they are set to receive or believe their loved one would not want things to play out as they are (even if the estate plan is technically being followed as drafted). 

Under Mississippi law, an heir can either renounce or contest a will. 

  • A spouse who is unhappy with the will drafted by their deceased partner can renounce it. The spouse will then receive an inheritance equal to what they would have received if their partner had never drafted a will (aka died intestate). 

Trusts can also be contested by interested parties. 

Ways to Contest or Challenge a Mississippi Estate Plan

But wanting to challenge an estate plan and having the legal grounds to do so are two different things. Under Mississippi law, anyone who wants to challenge the validity of a will or trust must have evidence showing:

  • The will or trust’s creator was improperly influenced or coerced by someone to create or change the terms of the will or trust in a manner that benefits the influencer.
  • The will or trust’s creator lacked the mental capacity to understand the nature and consequences of creating the will or trust at the time it was executed.
  • The will or trust creator’s signature was forged or the whole document is fake.
  • The will or trust documents were not properly executed. For example, the signatures are in the wrong place or the actions of the witnesses were suspicious. 
  • Some mistake was made during the drafting or execution of the will or trust. For example, a page did not print for some reason and was not included. 
  • The language used in the document is so unclear or ambiguous there is no way to say for sure what it means. 

Palmer & Slay’s attorneys help beneficiaries (and would-be beneficiaries) determine if a challenge is possible. But we also know how to protect estate plans from such challenges, and are often asked to do so. 

What Happens After An Estate Plan is Contested

When an estate plan is contested, there are a few possible outcomes:

  • The estate administrators settle the case in order to resolve the dispute as efficiently as possible. 
  • The challenge goes to trial, the challenger is successful, and the estate plan is invalidated. When this happens the estate is distributed as it would be if the person who died had never created an estate plan. 
  • The challenge goes to trial, the challenger is unsuccessful, and the estate plan is upheld. 

Preserving Your Wealth. Protecting Your Loved Ones. 

Whether you are upset that your grandma’s dog is inheriting more than you are, or you believe your loved one’s estate plan includes a mistake, the experienced attorneys on our team may be able to help. Contact Palmer & Slay today to schedule an initial consultation.