Wills can be contested for many reasons. Usually, contests are brought by relatives who were left out of a will. Anyone who thinks they should have gotten more than a will directs is likely to search for reasons to contest a will. Wills are usually contested on the following grounds:
- There was a later valid will.
- The will that is being probated isn’t valid. If there is no will, then Tennessee law directs how the assets are divided.
- The person who died did not have testamentary capacity to make his/her will.
- The will was changed from expected distributions by someone who unduly influenced the testator. The testator is the person who died.
If there is no will, there still can be contests based on whether a spouse was divorced or there was another spouse – or for other reasons.
Estate planning can help reduce the risk of a will contest but planning can’t eliminate the risk of a contest. Even those who can afford the best estate planning lawyers aren’t immune. Many estates of highly successful people have been contested. Wills and estates of those who have a lot of money are more likely to be disputed than that of the Average Joe because of the money is at stake.
Some notable estates fights of the rich and famous
You don’t need to be famous to contest a will, but celebrities do seem to make the news a lot for exactly this reason. Think Advisor, a financial publication, profiled a number of high-asset celebrity contests. We chose a few to highlight common reasons we see for contests, proving the rich and famous have the same troubles as everyone else:
- Gary Coleman, the former star of Diffr’nt Strokes, died in 2010 at 42 years of age. His assets were mainly a home and some royalties. Coleman wrote three wills including a handwritten codicil. A codicil is an amendment to the will. The codicil left everything to his wife. A dispute arose because Coleman had divorced his wife. She claimed they had a common-law marriage, but the judge ruled there was no valid marriage. Ultimately, the assets were awarded to a former business partner of Coleman’s.
- The soul singer James Brown died in 2006. His widow and children started a contest when the singer directed that his assets, nearly $50 million, were left to charities. Questions arose about the legitimacy of the marriage and whether he was the father of one of the children claiming an inheritance. A settlement was reached but was not approved by the court.
- Most people don’t know the name J. Howard Marshall II. Many do know his wife Anna Nicole Smith, who was a Playboy playmate and 62 years younger than Mr. Marshall. When he died, Marshall’s estate was worth $1.6 billion. His will left the assets to his stepson – leaving out Ms. Smith and his son, Howard Marshall. Both Ms. Smith and the son contested the will. They both died before final decisions were made. As of 2013, a final ruling hadn’t been made though the son appears to be the winner.
- Singer Aretha Franklin recently died without a will. Her children may contest the distribution in some fashion if they think they are not getting the share they deserve.
There are many reasons a will may be invalid. While some claims have merit, many don’t. The probate litigation attorneys at Wagner & Wagner Attorneys at Law represent personal representatives and claimants. We fight for executors, heirs and beneficiaries in Chattanooga and Cleveland, TN, and the surrounding counties. For help with an estate claim, please call us at 423-799-3532 or complete our contact form to schedule a free consultation.