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Know when you may have to challenge a loved one's estate plan

In the wake of the loss of a loved one, the last thing you want to do is focus on frivolous issues, such as finances. However, failing to stand up for your rights and assert yourself during estate administration is a major mistake that can haunt you for years to come.

Whether you worry about someone influencing the last will left behind by your loved one or believe they were not in a proper frame of mind during the creation of their estate plan, you may have reason to contest the last will in court.

Deciding to contest a will or the administration of an estate isn't something anyone should do lightly. Still, it is also something you should not shy away from if you see any warning signs of possible issues.

Your loved one's wishes changed in their final years

Perhaps you had a family member who always intended to evenly split assets between their children and grandchildren. Then, when the family reads the will, it turns out that a new spouse or friend will receive a significant amount of money. Other times, it could be a family member who provided care to the loved one in their final years.

People can leverage their position in the life of someone with assets for financial benefit. By exerting undue influence, they might motivate someone to change a last will. In situations where this happens, the family has the right to challenge the will or any changes made in the final years of someone's life.

The dates on the will coincide with mental decline in the testator

Far too many people leave off estate planning until late in life. Doing so is a mistake, in no small part because the longer you wait, the more potential there is for mental incapacitation claims.

If you know that your loved one experienced mental health issues or dementia as they aged, you want to carefully check the dates on the will. Last wills written after someone begins cognitive decline may not be valid.

If you have any reason to think fraud might be involved, say something

Some people will go to great lengths, even bribing people or forging signatures, to benefit from an estate. If you believe that fraud played a role in the creation of the existing estate plan or last well for a loved one's estate, you should absolutely alert the probate courts to your concerns.

Bringing a formal challenge is only the first step. You will have a chance to argue your case in court, as will the executor or other official representing the interests of the estate.

Having an attorney who understands the complexities of probate in your corner can make a big difference. If you suspect that there's an issue with a loved one's estate planning, it might be time to schedule an appointment to discuss your concerns.

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