Will Contests, Trust Disputes, and Probate Court Litigation
Probate Court Litigation Involving Wills, Trusts, and Property Transfers
Families, unfortunately, sometimes become pitted in battle over gifts and inheritances. As part of our practice, we handle complex litigation involving disputes over wills, trusts, and estate plans. Sometimes such disputes involve claims involving heirs at law, i.e., a person who might customary anticipate receiving an inheritance because of the nature of their blood relationship to the decedent, being excluded from an estate. In some such circumstances, arguments are made by the excluded person that the estate plan was not the true wishes of the decedent, but that will or estate planning instrument was the product of undue influence, or made at a point in time when the decedent lacked testamentary capacity.
Will Contests Involving Testamentary Capacity & Claims of Undue Influence
Under Massachusetts law, as explained in the seminal case of Goddard v, Dupree,decided by Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in 1948, "testamentary capacity" means an ability on the part of the testator (i.e., the person who executes a will) “to understand and carry in mind, in a general way, the nature and situation” of his or her property as well as his or her “relations to those persons who would "naturally have some claim to his [or her] remembrance.” It requires freedom from delusion which is the effect of disease or weakness and which might influence the disposition of property. It also requires an ability, at the time of execution of the will to complement the nature of the act of making the will. Whether a person had the appropriate level of capacity is almost always a question of fact. Similarly, it is not unusual for such claims also to include allegations that someone exercised "undue influence" on the person making the gift or bequest so as to undermine that person's free will.
Our team has successfully represented litigants on each side of the equation, including fiduciaries and beneficiaries defending the written wishes of a person who executed estate planning instruments, and in other cases persons who have claimed to have been wrongly excluded from wills and trusts, or who have otherwise challenged the validity of estate plans or the conduct of fiduciaries and interested parties.