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Personal Reps of an estate: How to defend against a will contest

If you are the personal representative or executor of an estate, you may encounter some obstacles as you assume your role and fulfill your duties. Beneficiaries of the estate may start to doubt the validity of the will, question your authority or squabble amongst one another.

It is vital to be ready for a will contest because estate disputes are always possible. 

According to Florida probate laws, it is your obligation as the personal representative to defend the estate against any litigation. Here is some pertinent information on how to respond to a will challenge.  

Reasons for disputing a will

Dissatisfaction with estate distribution is not enough for an heir to begin probate litigation. An heir must have legitimate grounds for filing a will contest.

Some common legal grounds for disputing a will include:

  • Mental incompetence of the decedent due to dementia, Alzheimer's, mental illness or other medical conditions
  • Undue influence of the decedent by a third party because of age or illness
  • Improper signing, inadequate witnesses or invalid execution
  • The decedent falling victim to fraud

The person litigating the will must have sufficient evidence of one or more of these claims to succeed. 

Proving the will is valid

If someone starts contesting the will, it is your job to show the document is legitimate. Potential evidence may include testimony from witnesses of the will signing and the health care providers of the decedent. Written letters and other documents from the deceased individual about his or her wishes regarding asset distribution may also be useful. 

Going to trial or settling

Once you and your attorney understand all the facts surrounding the will contest, it is time to determine whether you should bring the case to trial or offer the litigator a settlement. The decision will largely depend on the strength or weakness of both arguments. 

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