The short answer is yes, a will can be challenged in Mississippi. However, it’s not a process to be undertaken lightly. It can be complicated, has various requirements, and must meet specific time frames. Having an experienced estate planning attorney to guide you is highly recommended. Here are a few things you should know about challenging a will in Mississippi.
What Happens to a Person’s Will After They Die?
In Mississippi, the will needs to go to probate court to be proven valid and legal. The court determines if the deceased (known legally as the testator) was of sound mind and followed the legal process for the will in order to declare it valid and allow the executor to move forward with carrying out the will’s terms.
There are two ways wills are validated in Mississippi.
Common form probate. This is the less formal process for probating a will. No public notice is made for common form probate. Only the executor and the parties named in the will are notified. This is usually a quick procedure since only the people actively involved in the will come to court.
Solemn form probate. This is the more formal process for probating a will. Here the executor is required to notify all interested parties that the will is about to undergo probate. Interested parties include those named in the will, but it also includes others who aren’t. This type of probate can even involve juries if some of the interested parties contest the will.
Besides the actual process involved, there is another significant difference. The common form probate, while quicker to complete, allows people who are considered interest parties but weren’t named in the will to contest the will for up to two years after the court’s clerk issues the order to validate the will. A judge later finalizes the will, but the two-year statute of limitations begins with the clerk’s order.
In solemn form probate, once the court finalizes the probate, it’s binding, and there is no two-year window for contesting it. In other words, if someone learns that a will is going into solemn form probate and they have reason to contest it, they must act immediately. Once the solemn form will completes probate, it’s too late.
What Are Grounds for Challenging a Will in Mississippi?
Being upset about what someone did or didn’t receive through a will is not grounds for contesting the will. The testator has the right to distribute them according to their wishes, even if that hurts or offends others. However, there are several specific circumstances in which a will can be contested in Mississippi.
- Errors, fraud, undue influence/duress. Also called “lack of intent,” this is a common reason to contest a will. Either it contains errors, or the person who owned the assets was manipulated by someone (for example, a caregiver) to create or amend the will to benefit the manipulator, not the rightful heirs.
- Lack of mental capacity. This refers to situations in which someone drafts a will or drastically revises an existing will when they no longer are of sound mind. For example, someone with dementia may redo their will and not understand the consequences of the changes.
- Invalid will. Wills have specific requirements to be valid; if those requirements aren’t met, the will could be contested and declared invalid. Those requirements include the following:
- The testator must be at least 18 years old.
- The will must be witnessed and signed by at least two people who aren’t named in the will.
- A handwritten will is acceptable as long as it truly is a will and not just a letter or note expressing preferences for final disposition. The handwritten will needs to be dated and signed by the testator.
- Oral wills are allowed if they are done at the time of the final illness and can only give $100 unless two witnesses agree that the oral will is the correct one.
- If any of these requirements isn’t followed correctly, the will may be declared invalid.
- Duplicate will. It’s not uncommon for people to change their minds about how their estate should be handled. In general, the most recent will is the one that will be accepted in probate. However, if the testator was no longer of sound mind when the newer will was created, that will can be contested.
- Forgery. If there’s reason to think that someone, whether a caregiver or family member, maliciously forged the testator’s will in order to benefit themselves, contesting the will can help bring that to light and correct the wrong.
What Is Involved in Contesting a Will?
Contesting a will involves filing a lawsuit stating that the will is not valid or correct based on the reasons above (again, it’s not enough to simply be upset about what is or isn’t in the will). Evidence needs to be provided. Witnesses are often called to give depositions or possibly testify in court, such as family or close friends, medical personnel, or other service professionals (lawyers, accountants). Other evidence can include correspondence, video or audio recordings, contracts, or medical records.
The bottom line is that there has to be evidence proving the will was not correctly done for the reasons listed above. Without evidence, it isn’t easy to contest a will.
What Should I Do if I Need to Learn More About Challenging a Will in Mississippi?
Call us at 601-353-8504 for a free, in-depth, no-obligation case evaluation. Challenging a will is a complicated legal situation. Our experienced, knowledgeable estate planning attorneys understand what’s at stake and will guide you through the process as smoothly as possible.