Will contests are an unfortunately reality of many probate proceedings. In the aftermath of a death, emotions can run high and lingering family disputes can come to the forefront. While many different individuals may have concerns about a will or wish to challenge its provisions, not everyone is entitled to do so. In Texas, only interested persons have the right to challenge a will.
Interested persons is a deceptively broad phrase for a very narrow category of people. Despite the name, it does not include any individual who has any tangential interest in the will. Instead, under Texas law, “interested persons” is defined as:
Under this law, aunts and uncles who think a will is unfair to their nieces and nephews are not interested persons because they have no property right of their own at stake in the administration of the will (unless they are, in fact, granted some benefit from the will). However, children who think they are set to inherit a certain amount – but receive a smaller portion – would be potential challengers.
Additionally, the interests of interested persons has to be more than just an attachment to a momento, or a particular sentiment about the individual who has passed. Sentiments or emotions, although the may be significant, are not relevant to determining who can challenge a will. Instead, the interest, or property right, giving way to a challenge must be a pecuniary interest. This means that the interest must result in some sort of gain or loss of money.
Even if you are one of the individuals listed in the categories above, and even if you have a pecuniary interest in a will, interested persons who have already accepted the benefits of a will, or probate proceeding, may have difficulty challenging the will after the fact.
In Texas, many courts have held that accepting the benefits of a will can prohibit a recipient from challenging the will at a later date. This is viewed as having your cake and eating it too. While some courts will allow you to challenge a will as long as you return the property you previously received from an estate before doing so, the best course of action is to carefully review a will and consider any possible challenges before accepting benefits.
If you are a stated beneficiary of a will, it may be obvious that you have the right to challenge it. But in other instances, challenging a will can be much more complicated. If you’re unsure whether you meet the definition of an interested person, or if your interest is truly pecuniary, the trust litigation attorneys at Romano & Sumner LLC are available to help you sort through the details. To find out more, contact us online or at 281-242-0995.
Romano & Sumner – Sugar Land, TX Attorneys