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When should you contest a will?

Grandma always said she was going to leave you her heirloom jewelry and Grandpa promised you the 1965 Thunderbird that you helped him restore years ago.

Now both your grandparents are gone.

After the funeral you discover those items, along with a significant amount of money, are now going to the cousin who lived with Grandpa and Grandma for a month last summer and who helped them rewrite their wills.

The new will states that you are to receive only a small amount of money. Do you have the right to contest the will?

The short answer is yes, and especially so in Michigan because of the state's "safe haven" clause. Essentially this clause allows you to challenge the will without the loss of the benefit if probable cause exists. Not all states have this clause.

Three questions you should ask before you contest the "new" will are:

  • Is there a copy of the previous will?
  • Does the new will have two witnesses who are not heirs?
  • Were either of the wills notarized?

If there is no copy of the previous will, it may be more difficult to prove the intent of your grandparents changed.

If the new will does not have two witnesses, however, it will be easier to challenge.

If the first will was notarized (called a self-proving affidavit) but the second will was not, then the first will is more likely to be viewed as the true wishes of your grandparents.

Without witnesses who are not heirs and an official notary seal, the second will may be found to be affected by "undue influence," and therefore invalid.

If something doesn't add up about a relative's will, it's smart to contact a knowledgeable estate litigation attorney as soon as possible. 

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