Will Contests and Burden of Proof

last will and testamentPlanning for the future is very important.  An estate plan that is tailored to your assets and your goals is a key component of proper planning.  One essential part of the estate plan is to draft and properly execute a last will and testament.  During probate, the court will look to the will to determine the wishes of the deceased as to how the assets should be distributed.  In some a cases, a will contest may be brought during probate.

Any interested person has legal standing to challenge a will.  Interested person refers to someone who has a stake in the outcome.  In other words, this would include beneficiaries who would inherit if the will contest is successful.  The challenging party will have the burden of proof.  “Burden of proof” is the legal term used to refer to which person is responsible for bringing evidence to support a claim.  In the case of will contests, Minnesota statute 524.3-407 provides that the challenging party must be the one to bring and present the evidence.

A person may bring a will contest for several reasons.  Undue influence and lack of testamentary capacity are two reasons that a challenger may file a petition to set aside a will.  In those cases, the challenger will need to bring proof that those benefiting under the current will exerted undue influence over the deceased to get him or her to change the will, or that the deceased did not have the capacity to sign the will at the time it was executed.  Evidence can include documents such as medical records, financial records, or testimony of witnesses.

The challenger may already be in possession of this evidence, but it is also possible to acquire supporting documents and evidence through a process called discovery.  During discovery, the challenger can ask the certain documents or information be disclosed.  The challenger can then use that information or documentation to support his or her case in court.  In other words, it is not necessary that the challenger be able to independently carry the burden of proof immediately at the time of filing the petition.

If you have questions about will contests, call us today at (651) 371-9117.  We can talk with you about your probate issue and how we can help.

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