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Contested Wills Attorneys in Rhode Island

While this topic is “contested wills” it really should be more properly denoted “contested documents and actions” because it is rare that only a will is contested. A “contest” is most often regarding behavior by others that caused the actions of a person (deceased or without capacity) to be challenged. The discussion applies also to a Revocable or Irrevocable Trust, a Durable Power of Attorney, a Medical Durable Power of Attorney, a Living Will Declaration, a beneficiary (transfer on death) designation, joint account applications, or any other document affecting finances or estate planning.

But staying with contested wills for the moment, the purpose of the will is to describe your property in specific or general (but clear) terms and to detail your wishes as to the disposition of that property. It states who you want to handle your estate (the executor) and might arrange for a trust for a minor or a disabled person and might name a trustee and a guardian.

A “contest” might challenges any or all of the above purposes. The contestant may contest the assets, the heirs, the executor, the trustee or the guardian. Often, it is the action(s) of the “testator” and others when signing the will that are challenged. Was the testator of sound mind? Did he know the “objects of his bounty” and the “nature of his property”? Was he “under duress” or subject to “undue influence”?

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A contest might also challenge or “contest” the procedures surrounding the execution of the will. When a will is signed, a careful attorney will follow a very precise ritual. Before the attorney begins the ritual he will review the will (and all other documents to be signed) completely with the testator. Once that is completed the witnesses will come in and sit (or stand) in the presence of the testator. The attorney will then ask the testator to sign each page of the will and the signature line.

The attorney will then ask:

  • Is this your last will and testament?

  • Are you revoking all previous wills?

  • Are you asking these two witnesses to act as your “attesting witnesses?”

Then the attesting witnesses will sign in the testator’s presence and in each other’s presence. They will also sign an affidavit that all of the above occurred. The purpose of the ritual is to conduct every will signing the exact same way so that twenty years from now (for example) an attorney can honestly testify that he knows how the signing was conducted because he always does it that way.