In estate planning, testators are free to modify their wills, especially when changes in circumstances warrant the modification, such as acquiring new property or welcoming a new member to the family. In New Jersey, testators can revise their wills by creating a codicil or executing a new will.
Accordingly, there are no restrictions on when testators can alter their wills, as long as they do so before death. However, despite this liberty, some will changes are questionable, being applied at the last minute before the testator’s death. A sudden change that could warrant further investigation is adding or replacing a beneficiary.
Suspicious timing based on the circumstances
While a testator can freely add, remove or replace a will beneficiary, the same act would be dubious if the testator does so under certain circumstances. For one, if the testator made beneficiary changes when they were already mentally incapable, heirs should investigate whether undue influence was at play.
Similarly, suspicions should rise if the testator adds a beneficiary who, in a normal situation, the testator would not add to the will. These are usually people with authority over the testator, such as a caretaker, a financial advisor or other family members.
Challenging the will
Interested parties who find last-minute will change questionable can contest the will’s validity, provided they can show the court that there is a presumption of undue influence. To do so, they can show the court that the testator was ill, mentally incapable or in similar ways vulnerable when they made the modifications, becoming susceptible to undue influence, coercion or duress.
The law provides liberty when creating and altering wills, as long as the testator is of sound mind. Correspondingly, it continuously protects the testator, their estate, heirs and beneficiaries by allowing will contests on justified grounds.
Challenging a will’s validity can be intimidating. Nevertheless, an understanding of the law and process, with the guidance of an experienced estate litigation expert, can help overcome this feeling.