Will contests are by nature acrimonious. While some are based on legitimate concerns supported by actual or circumstantial evidence, others are based on long-standing family disputes. However, just because there is family discord does not mean that the objections to a will are not valid. Regardless of the impetus for filing a will contest, the Surrogate’s Court will not allow a full hearing on objections to a will unless there is a legitimate basis as well as evidence. The grounds for a will contest include improper execution, mental incapacity, undue influence, duress, and fraud.
In the Will of Djavaheri-Saatchi, while the objectant provides 5 legal grounds for challenging the will, another reason for the will contest may lie in family history. The proponent of the will, the daughter of the decedent, provided evidence that the decedent had decided to disinherit the objectant several years prior to the execution of the will at issue. Apparently, the reason was due to the actions by the objectant’s mother. The decedent was upset with the objectant’s mother because he believed that she stole property from him. Also, the decedent disinherited the objectant because she would be entitled to property in Iran. Instead, he decided to leave his entire estate to the proponent of the will.
Of course, being disinherited is not a legal ground for a will contest. The objectant made specific allegations of actions that point to the will not being a true representation of the decedent’s wishes. The objectant argued that the will was not properly executed, that the decedent lacked the mental capacity required to execute a will, that there was undue influence, that the decedent was under duress, and that fraud was involved. Underlying all of her arguments is an allegation that the proponent manipulated the decedent into disinheriting the objectant and leaving his estate to herself. The proponent responded to the objections by filing a motion for summary judgement, arguing that the objectant failed to raise a triable issue of fact with regard to the execution of the will, the testator’s mental capacity, or the existence of undue influence, duress, or fraud. Thus, as a matter of law, the proponent should prevail.