I was recently asked the question, "Dan, how do we contest a will in Tennessee. I was written out of the will two months before my mother's death. What do we do?"
During the probate administration, unfortunately, stories and questions like this do come up. First and foremost, if you die with a valid last will and testament in Tennessee, the will MUST be admitted to probate. Tennessee statute requires that every last will and testament must be admitted to probate. However, in order for a will to be valid it must be signed in the presence of two independent witnesses, the witnesses' signatures must be notarized, there should be a self-proving affidavit, and the person who signed the will must be competent and not under duress or undue influence. So long as you have met these requirements, then you will have a valid last will and testament in Tennessee.
However, how do you get into court to challenge the will? As I stated above, the last will and testament must be admitted to probate under Tennessee law. After the will is admitted to probate, even if the probate estate has been closed, there is time clock that is running for the next two years. Any person, who could inherit under the laws of intestacy, can bring an action to contest the will. There are a select number of reasons in which you can contest a will. First, you can argue that the will is invalid, meaning, that the will did not meet the requirements of a valid will in Tennessee (i.e., incorrect number of witnesses, no self-proving affidavit, etc.).
Another way to contest the will is to claim that the person who signed the will was not competent (i.e., suffered from dementia), or that another family member was exerting undue influence (i.e., either you sign this will or I won't pay for your nursing home care anymore). If you can prove your claims, the will could be held invalid or the portion of the will that affected you could be held invalid.
However, contesting a will is usually a long court process where there is no guarantee that you may win your claim. If you are considering contesting a will through the probate administration process, it is best to contact an expereinced and knowledgable probate litigation attorney.
If you have questions about probate and estate planning in general, please contact our office at (615) 472-2482. As always, we are here to help!
Daniel A. Perry