January 13

Grounds for challenging a Will: Fraud


Grounds for challenging a Will: Fraud

Fraud is one of the most common grounds for contesting a Will. If you manage to prove fraud, some or all of the Will may be invalidated, and if an entire Will is invalidated and there is no other one, the property must then be distributed as per the state’s intestacy laws. In case you don't remember, intestacy is when people die without having left a Will or other means by which to distribute their property.

When it comes to law, the word “fraud” has a specific meaning and there are heightened pleading requirements for a Complaint alleging fraud. Most simple mistruths are not fraud. Someone convincing someone else to sign a Will when the signer is misled about the contents of the Will? That might get you there. Generally, a beneficiary must have made at least one specific false statement to the testator, who then changed his/her Will to benefit said beneficiary based on that particular false statement. All of those elements must be included for a successful fraud claim. For example, a beneficiary merely lying to the testator is not fraud if the testator didn’t give the beneficiary a greater share of the estate, based on that lie. Even if the testator heard and believed the lie and then changed the will but not for any reason related to the lie, that also does not count as fraud.

You may remember from previous articles a comment about “standing.” Anyone considered an “interested person” may bring a claim of fraud in a Will contest. An “interested person” is someone who has something to lose or gain from the Will being read as is. Sometimes those “interested persons” come to lawyers and they're not sure whether they should proceed because of a “no contest” or “in terrorem” clause put there to deter beneficiaries from challenging the Will. Such a clause states that a beneficiary who contests the Will for any reason runs the risk of losing their share of the estate entirely. These clauses are looked at with skepticism by courts, who do not wish to discourage legitimate disputes. However, if you're not sure whether to proceed, or whether the specific conflict you experienced is fraud, you should

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