Will Contests in Connecticut
By: Philip C. Pires
When a person dies, most assets that the person solely owned at the time of her death pass into her probate estate. The disposition of a person’s probate estate depends on whether they had a will, and if so, what the will provides. A person who dies without a will dies intestate, and in that situation, the person’s assets will pass to relatives according to Connecticut law of intestate succession, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 45a-437.
If the decedent passed away with a will, any person possessing any will or codicil of the decedent is required to either deliver the will to the executor named in the will or submit the will to the probate court, within 30 days after the decedent’s death. Once the will is offered to the probate court, the probate court will provide notice to the named beneficiaries and the decedent’s heirs at law (i.e., those persons that would have received assets under the laws of intestate succession if there was no will). Anyone receiving the probate court’s notice may request a hearing on the admission of the will and object to the acceptance of the will if grounds for objecting exist.
The most common grounds to object to the admission of a will are lack of capacity and undue influence. Connecticut law requires that the testator (i.e., the person making a will) must have the legal capacity to do so (i.e., at least 18 years old and of sound mind). The testator must have known who testator’s family members were, understand the assets and property that she owned, and understand how her assets and property would be distributed under the will.
Undue influence occurs where the testator is improperly influenced or manipulated by someone to change the disposition of the testator’s estate in the will. The bad actor must exercise sufficient control over the testator to overcome and destroy the testator’s free agency, resulting in a change to the disposition of the testator’s assets under the will. Undue influence cases are sometimes difficult to prove because often the only evidence of undue influence – even if it occurred – is circumstantial.
Although less commonly raised, it is also possible to challenge a will because it was improperly executed. All wills must be in writing, signed by the testator, and attested by two witnesses, each of whom must sign the will in the testator’s presence. In addition, if a devise or bequest under the will is made to one of the witnesses, the devise or bequest is void unless the will is valid without the signature of that witness, or unless the witness is also an heir at law to the testator. A will does not have to be notarized; however, most wills are made “self-proving” by the witnesses signing an affidavit in the presence of a notary public or other official authorized to administer oaths. If a will is self-proving, then it is not necessary for the proponent of the will to provide the testimony of the witnesses to the will to offer the will for admission to the probate court.
Our probate litigators handle will contests and other contested probate court matters throughout Connecticut. If you believe that you have a basis to contest a will, or if you need an attorney to represent you in opposing a will contest, please contact one of our experienced probate litigators so that you can better understand your rights in the process.
Philip C. Pires is a member of the Probate Litigation, and Litigation & Dispute Resolution Groups at Cohen and Wolf, P.C. Phil regularly represents beneficiaries, fiduciaries, and creditors in a variety of contested probate proceedings, including conservatorships, trust and estate administration, will contests, contested accounting proceedings, and fiduciary removal proceeding.