Protecting Your Estate from a Will Contest
Following Richard Pratt’s death in 2009, Madison Ashton claimed that she had left her profession as a sex worker to become the Australian billionaire’s kept mistress. Pratt had apparently promised the former Penthouse Pet a $500,000 per year allowance, $36,000 per year for accommodation, $30,000 per year for travel expenses, and a $5 million trust fund for her two children. The court rejected Ashton’s claim, ruling that although that conversation may have happened, Pratt clearly had no intention of entering a legally binding agreement.
However, Shari-Lea Hitchcock, another of Pratt’s mistresses with whom he had a daughter, managed to reach a $100 million dollar settlement through her will contest. The bulk of Pratt’s money went to the children he had with his wife Jeanne.
Will contests can be difficult to win, and can only be brought by certain parties. In the next three posts, we will discuss who may challenge your estate plan, what they must prove to be successful, and a few safeguards to minimize the chances that a will contest will become part of your legacy.
Who can challenge a will?
Not everyone has legal standing to contest a will. A lawsuit to challenge the validity of a trust or will may only be filed by an “interested party,” meaning a person or entity that would be personally (and financially) affected by the document being probated or administered. These people/entities typically include:
- The decedent’s heirs-at-law. These are the people who would have inherited by law if the decedent had no will, including the decedent’s spouse/civil partner, children, and if no spouse or children, the list expands to include parents, then siblings, then other relatives.
- The decedent’s previous beneficiaries. If the decedent left money or property to a specific individual or organization (e.g., charity) in a previous will or trust, those prior beneficiaries have standing to contest a more recent document.
- Fiduciaries named in a prior will or trust. Named executors of a previous will, and trustees of a previous version of a revocable living trust, may also have standing since they stood to gain from fiduciary fees associated with the management and distribution of the estate.
Even if a person does have standing, they must convince the court that the will or trust should be declared invalid. In our next post in this series, we will review the grounds for contesting a will.