Even if your loved one left a last will and testament behind, there may be instances in which it can be challenged. For instance, if your father had dementia and added his second wife’s name to a bank account intended for the family, or your mother changed her will to omit you in favor of your sibling, you might have grounds to contest a will.
Another scenario that can lead to challenging a will is one where a caregiver or “friend” of the decedent ends up getting everything and the family receives nothing. If legal grounds exist to dispute the validity of the will, a court may treat the estate as if your loved one died intestate, reinstate a prior will, or invalidate the specific portion of the will that has successfully been contested.
Reasons to Contest a Will
Under Michigan law, there are several grounds for challenging a will. If you have a legal interest in your loved one’s estate, you may be entitled to contest their will if certain circumstances exist. For example, if you were disinherited or believe you should have received a larger portion of the estate than the decedent left you in their will, you may be able to contest the will. In some cases, there may be multiple wills — and the beneficiaries may disagree as to which one is valid.
The primary reasons a will in Michigan might be challenged include the following:
Incapacity — Under Michigan law, an individual must be at least 18 years old to make a valid will. They must also have sufficient mental capacity to create a will. Michigan law specifies that the creator of the will must understand they are providing for the disposition of their property after death and the effects of signing the will. The will maker must also have the ability to know the extent of their property and the natural objects of their bounty.
Undue Influence — Undue influence means the testator would have had to experience coercive pressure so severe that their free will was compromised. Undue influence can come in the forms of threats, flattery, excessive persuasion, and physical or emotional coercion. There is a rebuttable presumption in Michigan that undue influence has occurred when the beneficiary was acting as a Power of Attorney or otherwise occupied a position of confidence and trust and had the opportunity to commit undue influence.
Fraud or misrepresentation — Even competent adults can be tricked into transferring assets or making changes to estate planning documents based on false material statements of fact. When someone relies on a false promise, a misrepresentation, or another type of lie, the will may be set aside as invalid. Forgery is also a form of fraud that could lead to a will being invalidated.
Failure to comply with the legal requirements — In order to have a valid will, the document must be in writing, signed by the testator, and signed and witnessed by two competent individuals. A handwritten will may also be recognized in Michigan if it is dated and signed by the testator and all material portions of the document are in the handwriting of the testator. A will may be set aside if it doesn’t satisfy these legal requirements, although even writings that don’t otherwise satisfy the requirements could qualify as a valid will if clear and convincing evidence is shown.
The petitioner has the burden of proof when challenging a will. In other words, they must raise sufficient evidence to persuade the court that the will in its current form does not match the decedent’s intent. Notably, even if there is a no contest clause in the will, Michigan law states that it will not be enforced if there is probable cause to contest the will.
Challenging an Account of Convenience
An account of convenience is similar to a power of attorney. In some cases, older adults or individuals with dementia might set up such a joint account to allow another person to use the funds in it for the owner’s benefit. These types of accounts are often used for financial management purposes, to pay bills, and run errands. They might also be used as a “poor man’s will” to help save costs.
If the owner of the account didn’t mean for the joint owner to keep the assets in it after their passing — and only intended the joint name to be added as a matter of convenience — a court may order that the asset be turned over to the estate. This can also apply to brokerage accounts, stocks, and other financial investments. Importantly, the account must reflect the intent of the person who added the name at the time the account was created, rather than after the fact.
What is the Legal Process to Contest a Will in Michigan?
Contesting a will can be a complex and lengthy legal process — but if you have legal standing and can establish grounds that the will should be rendered invalid, you may be entitled to petition the probate court in the appropriate county. A party who has an interest in the probate proceedings can either object to the will being probated or dispute the legitimacy of the will. However, it’s crucial to understand that you only have a limited amount of time to challenge a will in Michigan.
There is no set statute of limitations to challenge a will if the proceedings are informal, with some exceptions. In the event formal probate proceedings have been commenced, a petitioner must raise their objection before the admission of the will. Once a formal order of testacy has been entered validating the will, there is a 21-day appeal period. After this time expires, any challenge to the will is typically barred, absent special circumstances.