If a person in Maryland or the District of Columbia dies and the person had a Last Will and Testament (Will), there are some circumstances where an heir, a dispossessed heir, or another person might bring a legal challenge to the Will. Contesting a Will — called a “Caveat Proceeding” in Maryland — involves filing a written request with the probate court asking the court to make a finding that the Will is invalid. If the court agrees that the Will in question is invalid, then a couple of different things might happen depending on the circumstances.
Considering what might happen if a Will is invalidated is crucial since Will contests are not filed in the abstract. Those challenging a Will generally feel aggrieved in some way and seek to have that grievance assuaged. But, challenging a Will can be complicated, and thus, it is crucial to seek legal consultation. The Maryland and D.C. Estate Planning lawyers at The Law Offices of Thomas Stahl explain more below.
The first three considerations are whether a previous version of the Will exists, what would be received under an earlier version of the Will, and whether any versions of the Will contain terrorem clauses. Such clauses prohibit a person from receiving anything under a Will if they file a Will contest. Generally, if a current version of a Will is invalidated, then the probate court will “re-animate” an older version.
Let’s take an example. Suppose the decedent executed a Will in 2015, revoked that Will, and then executed a new Will in 2020. As noted, if the 2020 Will is invalidated, generally, the 2015 Will becomes controlling. So, the first question is whether the person challenging the 2020 Will will receive substantially more under the 2015 Will. If not, then the Will contest is not particularly useful. The second question is whether the Wills have terrorem clauses. If the 2020 Will has such a clause but is invalidated, then the clause is also invalidated. However, if the 2015 version of the Will also has an in terrorem clause, then the person challenging the 2020 Will may be barred from receiving anything under the 2015 Will even if the 2020 Will is invalidated. This, again, makes the Will contest not particularly useful.
These considerations are highly relevant in cases where the Will itself is not challenged, but a later-executed codicil to the Will is challenged. A codicil is an amendment to a Will. If the Will has an in terrorem clause, then challenging the codicil will invoke the in terrorem clause.
In a case where there is no previous Will, then success in invalidating the Will will — effectively — result in the decedent dying without a Will. Under those circumstances, the property and assets of the decedent will pass via the Maryland or District of Columbia laws of intestate succession. This generally means that close relatives will receive the assets and property. Spouses receive first, then children, then parents, siblings, etc.
Maryland and D.C. Trust and Estate Planning Attorneys
Contact the seasoned and experienced Maryland and D.C. trust and estate planning attorneys at The Law Offices of Thomas Stahl. We have the experience and expertise you need. Schedule a consultation today or call us at (410) 696-4326 or (202) 964-7280. We have offices in Columbia, MD, and Washington, DC.