With certain estates, especially larger ones, there is a great potential for acrimony among beneficiaries who may or may not be named in a Last Will and Testament. Simply feeling dismayed because you didn’t get the inheritance you were hoping for is not a pleasant feeling, but that is not sufficient grounds to formally contest the validity of a decedent’s Will. There are other grounds legally recognized for contesting a Will; these legal hearings are referred to as “caveat proceedings” in Maryland.
Only “interested parties” may initiate a caveat proceeding in the state. To be classified as an interested party, you must satisfy one of two conditions: you must either be named in the Will or, if the decedent left no estate plan, you are eligible for an inheritance based on Maryland’s intestate succession laws. Intestate succession laws are state laws that govern the division of an estate with no Will.
The state probate court is the venue in which caveat proceedings take place. In Maryland, this court is referred to as Orphans’ Court. You do not have unlimited time to file for a caveat proceeding in Orphans’ Court, though; there is a six-month statute of limitations. The countdown begins when the personal representative of an estate is officially appointed or recognized.
Grounds for Caveat Proceedings
Before becoming a caveator (one who has filed for a caveat proceeding in Orphans’ Court), you should know and understand the grounds for which you are contesting the decedent’s Will. There are five common grounds for contesting a Will:
- The document does not adhere to requirements as laid out by Maryland law. For instance, an individual’s (written) Last Will and Testament must be signed by two credible witnesses in addition to the testator.
- The testator (decedent whose estate is covered by the Will) was not of sound mind when he or she signed the document.
- Someone used undue influence to pressure the testator into composing the Will a certain way. An example of undue influence includes coercion.
- Forgery or fraud was committed during the creation of the Will.
- There is a newer version of the Will.
Successfully contesting a decedent’s Last Will and Testament is an uphill battle; the burden of proof lies with the caveator in Maryland. Each case is highly unique and fact-specific. If you are planning to initiate caveat proceedings or are defending a Will in this circumstance, it is imperative to retain an experienced estate-planning attorney. For that, get in touch with Attorney Jack Sturgill to begin a consultation into your case.