What Makes a Will Invalid in New York?
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What Makes a Will Invalid in New York?

What are the requirements for a Will in New York? How do I ensure my Will is valid in New York? In this article, you'll learn the most common reasons why a Will may be invalid in New York State! Keep reading to learn more!

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In New York State, a court can declare a Last Will and Testament invalid or partially invalid under certain circumstances. That's why it's important to ensure that your Will meets New York State's legal requirements to avoid potential challenges or disputes. This article outlines the most common reasons a Will is considered invalid in New York.

Lack of Capacity 

To create a valid Will in New York, the testator (the person making the Will) must have "testamentary capacity." This means they must understand the nature of their property, know who their natural heirs are, understand the disposition of property decisions that they are making, and not be suffering from a mental condition that impairs their judgment. If a court determines that the testator lacked the mental capacity to make the Will when it was executed, the Will may be declared invalid.

Proving a lack of capacity requires medical records to show the testator's mental condition. Witnesses can also testify about the person's mental condition. Was the person confused or disoriented? If so, they might not have been able to understand the consequences of writing a Will. Did the person have memory loss? If they can't remember or identify the people they left property to, this is a sign of a lack of capacity.  

Undue Influence

If someone exerts undue influence or coercion over the testator, forcing them to make specific provisions in the Will against their wishes, the Will can be contested and declared invalid. Undue influence typically involves manipulation, intimidation, or coercion, resulting in the testator's lack of free will. The burden of proving undue influence in New York is on the person contesting the Will. They must prove three elements:  motive, opportunity, and exercise of undue influence.

Let's delve into this in more detail. To prove motive, the person would need to show that someone had a motive to influence the person who made the Will. The motive is usually financial benefit. For example, suppose an elderly woman's caregiver is named as the sole beneficiary of a Will that the woman made shortly before death. In that case, the woman's children might challenge the Will on the basis that the caregiver manipulated the woman for a financial windfall. 

When it comes to proving opportunity, the one contesting the Will needs to show that the person actually had the ability to manipulate the testator. This can be shown in situations where the testator was dependent on the person or when the testator suffers from Alzheimer's or dementia. People with opportunity may include lawyers, caretakers, or relatives who have access to the testator.

The third element is the actual exercise of undue influence. This is probably the hardest element to prove since the Will challenge only happens after the testator has died. It can be hard to show that the person who benefitted from the Will was involved in drafting the Will.  

Fraud or Forgery

If a Will is forged or created through fraudulent means, it is not valid. This includes situations where someone forges the testator's signature or manipulates them into signing a Will under false pretenses. It's not unusual for family members to believe that a Will is forged, especially if it is handwritten or makes sweeping changes to an earlier version of the Will. It is possible for someone to import a person's signature from another document or for someone to alter the text of a certain part of the Will.  

Improper Execution of the Will

New York has specific requirements for the proper execution of a Will, such as the need for two witnesses. If these requirements are not met, the Will may be invalid. Additionally, if the testator's signature or the witness's signature is missing or appears to be altered, it can raise doubts about the Will's authenticity.

Examples of New York Cases Where Wills Were Invalidated

Son-in-Law Coercion:  In one case, the testator was an elderly woman who had been struggling with her health. She moved in with her daughter and son-in-law. When the daughter died unexpectedly, the son-in-law coerced his mother-in-law to leave him her whole estate. When the family challenged the Will, a court agreed that he had pressured the woman during a time of grief. The Will was thrown out.

Elder Abuse:  In another case involving an elderly testator, a man lived with his niece. She coerced him into giving her a much greater share of his estate than his other living relatives, including his adult daughter. The court eventually declared the Will fraudulent.

Fraud: A woman's husband died, and they had no children. So when she wrote her Will, she announced that she wanted to leave her estate to her brother's four adult children equally. The woman didn't know where one of the children lived because he had moved away 20 years earlier. The three other adult siblings knew how to contact him but conspired to cut him out of the Will. They told their aunt that he was actually dead. When the nephew discovered the plot, he successfully had the Will invalidated because of the fraud of his siblings.

How to Avoid Fraud and Will Challenges in New York

To prevent a Will contest, make sure you comply with state law in signing, dating, and witnessing your Will properly. Working with an online Will services platform like FastWill can make this easier because New York lawyers and artificial intelligence back our system. You should also speak with your family about what you put in your Will and why you made those decisions. This can often soften the blow of any surprises that you might come up with when the family reads your Will after your passing. 

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