A will is a foundational estate planning document that provides important information and direction to beneficiaries of a decedent’s estate. In New Jersey, a will goes to probate and usually is managed by the executor with little involvement of the court. However, if anyone challenges the validity or contents of a will, the probate court may hear arguments regarding its legitimacy.
A person who challenges a will is called a caveator, and the caveator must have a reason for wishing to have a will reviewed and potentially set aside. Often caveators feel aggrieved by their treatment in wills and may believe that they should have received more of the decedents’ estates. To this end, many will challenges involve claims that testators were influenced or coerced into drafting wills that wrongfully disadvantaged the caveators.
Wills can also be challenged based on technical arguments. In New Jersey, wills must meet certain requirements with regard to a testator’s age, mental status, and witness verifications. If a testator did not have the mental capacity to draft a will, or if certain signatory verifications were missed in the execution of the will, it may be set aside as invalid by a probate court.
Challenging a will can be a long and expensive process and in some cases it is possible to settle differences between beneficiaries without the involvement of the probate court. However, when a will is challenged it is important that individuals carefully review the grounds on which the challenges are based. The assistance of probate and estate planning attorneys can be instrumental in helping beneficiaries understand what they must do to protect the testamentary intentions of those who recognized them in their wills.