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Q: What is a will contest?

New York and New Jersey estate planning attorneys review a client’s complete family and financial situation in order to determine the best way to meet the client’s goals. Then, a personalized estate plan will be crafted with those goals in mind. It may include a will, with or without trusts, as well as additional documents which provide for the client’s possible disability prior to death.

A last will and testament, commonly called a “will”, is a legal document where the maker/testator designates how they want their probate assets to be distributed after their death. The will also has other purposes including naming the legal guardians for any minor children and naming an executor to carry out the wishes of the will.

Sometimes, when people who expected to inherit money or property under somebody’s will find out they were cut out of the will, a will contest may ensue.  In order to contest someone’s will, you must have legal standing to raise objections. Typically, spouses and children of the decedent contest wills, but that’s not always the case.

Sometimes a will contest arises when siblings get unequal shares, or when a long-standing will was substantially-changed shortly before the testator’s death under potentially-suspicious circumstances. Questions of whether the testator had the mental capacity, was under duress, or whether the will was validly executed may be relevant in a will contest.

The late pop superstar, Michael Jackson, who died in 2009, reportedly left his father Joseph Jackson, who recently died of pancreatic cancer, out of his will. During his lifetime, the “King of Pop” reportedly told many interviewers that his father was a harsh disciplinarian toward him and many of his siblings as he pushed the childhood musical group, the Jackson 5, to stardom in ways that many would consider to have been child abuse.

He reportedly left a will as well as a family trust that did not provide anything for his father. His three children and his mother who was named guardian of his children were all reportedly provided for in a family trust.

You don’t have to be wealthy to avail yourself of trusts for estate planning purposes. A skilled estate planning attorney can you advise on whether revocable or irrevocable trusts would be beneficial in your particular circumstances. Some of the reasons people use trusts include the ability to transfer trust assets to their intended beneficiaries without going through probate, saving both time and money. In addition, trusts are private– unlike a will which is a matter of public record. For this reason, celebrities often favor using trusts.

If you need help with an initial estate plan or would like to modify an existing estate plan, the estate planning experts at Merlino & Gonzalez can help you. We are experienced in all phases of estate planning and knowledgeable about the best ways to avoid a future will contest. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

From our offices in Staten Island, New York and East Brunswick, New Jersey, we represent clients throughout New York and New Jersey in estate planning and real estate matters.